Mar

15

 The Sonora desert around Slab City has received the most rain in anyone's memory, as much accumulative this spring as in the last twenty years I've lived here. The result is a carpet of green clover where normally parched sand lies, and a zoo of animals on it – insect, reptiles, birds and mammals.

One of the most beautiful, while hiking this morning, I followed through the grass, flowers, and clover to a party. The Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla magnifica) looks exactly like a large 1" ant with a red velvet stole, but is actually a wingless wasp. It is ranked in the top three (among tarantulas, millipedes, scorpions, bees, etc.) for giving the most painful sting. I once watched adventurer Coyote Peterson subject his forearm to a Velvet Ant sting, and jump around on a video that went viral, and that was enough to make me want to want to verify it.

This morning I put my hand in front of a Velvet Ant again and again, but she scurried around it, intent on something else. I could guess by the aroma over the flowers and clover that she was going out for a drink, like the giant 3" Pepsis wasps that have flown into my chest, after sipping flower nectar, and fallen rolling to the ground in a drunken stupor.

My date the Velvet Ant climbed over my hand, and I followed her on hands and knees for a few minutes. First, she climbed up a stalk of clover, inserted her mouth parts, sipped, and fell over backwards on the ground, kicking her six legs in the air. Had I a microscope, there would have been a smile on her face. She recovered in a few seconds, turned over, and scurried to the next bar of clover for a drink of nectar, and repeated the act. Then three more times.

Nectar and honey from certain flowers and clover is psychoactive to insects and humans, and overindulging is called Mad Honey Disease. Even when honey is not produced from the nectar of these toxic plants, it can still ferment to produce ethanol, on which the birds and bees can become incapable of flight or other normal movement. The word for drunk in classical Greek is even translated as 'honey-intoxicated', and two Celtic goddesses have arisen from it.

The red Velvet Ant, after staggering from one clover to the next, climbed a tuft of grass and ate merrily until her abdomen bulged, stopped moving, and fell asleep under my nose.

These insects remind me of Thoreau's aphorism 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with their songs still inside them.' But not me. I walked over to the Coachella Canal, jumped in, and kicked my toes at the sun.


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1 Comment so far

  1. Pete M on March 15, 2017 1:41 pm

    I love these posts Bo, please keep them coming.

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