Never mind why, never mind how, but I just spent a very happy hour watching critter-on-critter action over at www.japanesebugfights.com . Leave it to those wacky Japanese to take a time-honored tradition (really! Indonesian postage stamps have been known to feature images of battling rhinocerous beetles; they train and fight them like roosters or partridges or pit bulls over there) and morph it into THE bizarro internet phenomenon of the moment. Possibly it is also a television show; I can't be sure. Someone, though, has taken lots of time to generate splashy animations highlighting the winners and losers and, I've no doubt, to develop an exciting play-by-play calling style to describe the battles (I can only surmise this last because I was watching on a computer with the sound turned off).
The website's name is a bit of a misnomer to the entomological stickler, which I am.* To ESes like me, "bug" refers to members of the family hemiptera or "true bugs," the characteristics of which I won't bore you with here except to say they have a particular variety of mouthparts and wings. It gets very minute and technical, as one might expect when dealing with such tiny animals. Suffice it to say that the empresarios behind Japanese Bug Fights have a much broader definition of bug, to include insects, spiders, centipedes, scorpions and even in three memorable and strange fights, crayfish. I wonder if perhaps "japanesearthopodfights" was already taken by some canny cybersquatter who was holding out for too much money.
I'm not, on the whole, a fan of combat as a spectator sport of any kind, do not watch boxing or professional wrestling or jousting or The Real Housewives of Orange County (if I've got the name of that show right? Do I?), but I am a fan of insects -- though MODPM, already getting ready to expose me via the comment form at the bottom of this blog, will quickly and gleefully tell anyone who asks how that wasn't always so, how the sight of a hawk moth in the restroom sink at Lake Tahoe sent me into paroxysms of terror and hysteria she loves to describe as "coming unglued," how a jerusalem cricket in the living room in Saratoga once had me up on the recliner trying to climb onto the ceiling (but she will admit to this day that there are few things on this Earth that are uglier than a jerusalem cricket), but that was when I was a little girl and people change, they do! A decade or so later found me at Beaudacious Bard College, the Hippie Harvard on the Hudson, a campus in the middle of a lush East Coast decidiuous forest, a campus of varied and aged architecture, a campus, in short, rich in insect life. June bugs hurling themselves at dorm room screens. Enormous stinkbugs lurking under classroom stools. Dense clouds of moths orbiting the feeble lamps lining the nighttime paths. Boxelder bugs dancing gaily on bathroom walls. I would have to learn to live with them or, as my first roommate wound up doing, find another place to get me my learnin'. I decided the best way to get over my phobia would be to learn more about them -- and fell in love.
So yes, as I say, I am a fan of insects. I can watch a beetle struggle across the ugly shag carpeting in my little corner of the Vertical Trailer Park for hours. I'll watch an egg sac on a blade of grass for days in a row the way others look at robins' nests. I planned my days around that groovy little Animal Planet show "Buggin' with Ruud" back when I had cable. I have a set of insect dinnerware (a set of four plates with handsome green rims, each elegantly depicting a different variety of insect at the center: a grasshopper, a dragonfly, a goliath beetle and a ground beetle); insect earrings, insect Christmas tree lights, and a growing collection of life-sized and lifelike refrigerator magnets depicting an American cockroach, a farmer ant, a tomato hornworm caterpillar, a common housefly, and a centipede of fanciful coloring and I'm always on the lookout for more. I like insects.
So of course when one of my Tweeps told me about this website I checked it out!
Right away, I knew that were I a betting woman I'd bet on the stag beetle or the rhinocerous beetle in any given fight on general principles. Everybody knows the rhinocerous beetle is proportionally the strongest animal in the world, and rhinocerous and stag beetle fighting is a common staple of all those TV shows we can group under the rubric of Nature Porn. And these guys do not disappoint. They fight sort of like sumo wrestlers, forging ahead and lifting the opponent up into the air and shoving him out of the circle, over and over again until the opponent is all tuckered out (which happens quickly to insects and their ilk; they don't have our sophisticated circulatory and respiratory systems and don't take long at all to become winded). They win a lot, these guys, but they surprised me by not winning all the time, though in fairness I don't think pitting a rhinocerous beetle against a tarantula is at all sporting. Talk about sumo; those fat suckers pretty much just sit on their opponents and crush the fight -- and life -- right out of 'em. Phooey!
What really did disappoint me, though -- and this might make MODPM cry as she had a sad encounter with one this fall that she still gets a little misty about -- was the very poor performance of my beloved praying mantises! They're some of the most elegant-looking creatures there are, and are universally known as fast and deadly hunters with their modified forelimbs able to strike faster than most film cameras can capture. Alas, put one in a tank with a camel spider or an African cave spider and all that grace and speed are useless. Put one in with a jerusalem cricket, though, and, well, it's sad there too but in a poetic justice sort of way -- as is well known, female mantises tend to bite the heads off their mates while being impregnated. The jerusalem cricket pounced once, overpowered the mantis in the tank with him, and spent the rest of the match trying to gnaw the mantis' head off.
The other standout was a fierce-looking Japanese hornet, which destroyed almost everyone until it came up against a big ol' centipede. Then it turned into Anna Pavlova and died a graceful dying swan of a death scene. Watch for yourself and tell me you don't get a little teary -as she checks out, first trying to catch her breath, then finally sort of curling in on herself and gently expiring. Excuse me for a moment.
All better now for having looked again at the stupid scorpions, who have exactly one trick up their, well, they don't have sleeves, but you know what I mean. And until they're able to deliver their sting -- which isn't always fatal to other arthopods -- they run cravenly away and just try to wear their opponents out with the chasing. They are laughable, though they made me angry when one took out my favorite crayfish, a gentle looking druid of a creature, a pretty grey-blue in hue with a face that made me think of a wise old man, a sage, someone who was maybe trying to tell the stupid scorpion that there's more to life than sticking its tail into things and finally expired with a sad little crayfish sigh.
But don't take my word for it! Go see for yourself. But yes, my early advice is sound. Bet on the stag beetle.
*I in fact explored, in my reckless youth, the notion of adopting entomology as a profession. Certainly I felt a calling, but alas the 19th century naturalist with his net and his hip waders and his dilletantish notebooks of sketches and observations that I had in mind is a far cry from the life of your actual workaday entomologist, an adjunct, usually, of the land grant college's vast college of agriculture, his summers spent, yes, in the field looking at bugs but largely to see if the devious methods he's spent the whole school year dreaming up succeeded in killing off the objects of his study. Also, there's a lot of statistics and bio-organic chemistry and I got sidetracked into learning Urdu and teaching English to Brazilians and, yes, Japanese, when I was supposed to be a diligent graduate student measuring fungal blooms in a thousand petri dishes full of dirt.
Causes Kate Sherrod Supports
National Novel Writing Month, National Public Radio (two stations - KUWR/Laramie, WY and KUNC - Greeley, CO), Wyoming Association of Municipalites, Wyoming...