Miracle. All of It.

Stop. If you’re inside, go to a window. Throw it open and turn your face to the sky. All that empty space, the deep vastness of the air, the heavens wide above you. The sky is full of insects, and all of them are going somewhere. Every day, above and around us, the collective voyage of billions of beings.

…There are other worlds around us. Too often, we pass through them unknowing, seeing but blind, hearing but deaf, touching but not feeling, contained by the limits of our senses, the banality of our imaginations, our Ptolemaic certitudes. […]

They had heard about the butterflies, gnats, water striders, leaf bugs, booklice, and katydids sighted hundreds of miles out on the open ocean; about the aphids that Captain William Parry had encountered on ice floes during his polar expedition of 1828; and about those other aphids that, in 1925, made the 800-mile journey across the frigid, windswept Barents Sea between the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, and Spitsbergen, off Norway, in just twenty-four hours. Still, they were taken aback by the enormous quantities of animals they were discovering in the air above Louisiana and unashamedly astonished by the heights at which they found them. All of a sudden, it seemed, the heavens had opened.

Unmoored, they turned to the ocean, began talking about the “aeroplankton” drifting in the vastness of the open skies. They told each other about tiny insects, some of them wingless, all with large surface-area-to-weight ratios, plucked from their earthly tethers by a sharp gust of wind, picked up on air currents and thrust high into the convection streams without volition or capacity for resistance, some terrible accident, carried great distances across oceans and continents, then dropped with the same fateful arbitrariness in a downdraft on some distant mountaintop or valley plain. […]

On August 10, 1926, a Stinson Detroiter SM-1 six-seater monoplane took off from the rudimentary airstrip at Tallulah, Louisiana. […] [O]ver the next five years, the researchers flew more than 1,300 sorties from the Louisiana airstrip […].

They estimated that at any given time on any given day throughout the year, the air column rising from 50 to 14,000 feet above one square mile of Louisiana countryside contained an average of 25 million insects and perhaps as many as 36 million. They found ladybugs at 6,000 feet during the daytime, striped cucumber beetles at 3,000 feet during the night. They collected three scorpion flies at 5,000 feet, thirty-one fruit flies between 200 and 3,000, a fungus gnat at 7,000 and another at 10,000. […]

They caught wingless worker ants as high as 4,000 feet and sixteen species of parasitic ichneumon wasps at altitudes up to 5,000 feet.

At 15,000 feet, “probably the highest elevation at which any specimen has ever been taken above the surface of the earth,” they trapped a ballooning spider, a feat that reminded Glick of spiders thought to have circumnavigated the globe on the trade winds and led him to write that “the young of most spiders are more or less addicted to this mode of transportation,” an image of excited little animals packing their luggage that opened a small rupture in the consensus around the passivity of all this airborne movement and led to Glick’s subsequent observation that ballooning spiders not only climb up to an exposed site (a twig or a flower, for instance), stand on tiptoe, raise their abdomen, test the atmosphere, throw out silk filaments, and launch themselves into the blue, all free legs spread-eagled, but that they also use their bodies and their silk to control their descent and the location of their landing. Thirty-six million little animals flying unseen above one square mile of countryside? The heavens opened. The air column was “a vault of insect-laden air” from which fell “a continuous rain.” […]

Throughout the entire extent of verticality there was no lessening of denseness of flying insects… . For many days this particular phase of migration continued, millions upon millions coming from some unknown source, travelling due south to an equally mysterious destination. Beebe also reported a different phenomenon: a steady stream of insects of many species — cockchafers, chrysomelid beetles, vespid wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, and “hosts upon hosts of minute winged insect life” — passing together through the migration flyway in a massive motley emigration that apparently took place every year. All that minute insect life was too small to be counted. But aphids, an indistinct haze, will swarm at densities up to 250 times greater than that of butterflies. In fact, these tiny ones — the aphids, the thrips, the microlepidoptera, the smallest beetles, the smallest parasitic wasps, all barely visible to the human eye — form the overwhelming majority of species and individuals of the class Insecta […].

—  Hugh RafflesInsectopedia. (Vintage; June 26, 2010)


Notes:

  • Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
  • Photo: Unsplash

Comments

  1. Wow!! I had no idea that insects migrated. Fascinating post David.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. this is fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Everything about Nature is a miracle!! … “But aphids, an indistinct haze, will swarm at densities up to 250 times greater than that of butterflies. In fact, these tiny ones — the aphids, the thrips, the microlepidoptera, the smallest beetles, the smallest parasitic wasps, all barely visible to the human eye — form the overwhelming majority of species and individuals of the class Insecta […].
    – Hugh Raffles, Insectopedia. (Vintage; June 26, 2010)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really fascinating!! Loved this – thanks for teaching me something new!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really thrilling! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. freddiegeorgia says:

    Wow. This gives me a whole new perspective on … looking up!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hugh Raffles, certainly paints a pictures with his descriptive words…when I read what he said this “air column rising” I thought of the Bible’s description of the ‘Rapture’
    “Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17…

    Liked by 1 person

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