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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Japanese Beetles

The first third of September is past, and it's a joy to see shrubs like roses, altheas, and crepe myrtles still blooming without a Japanese beetle in sight to disfigure them, and some of these were also in flower before the beetles appeared.

I wasn't so happy about the beetles a few weeks ago, and I went out of my way to expunge as many as I could, and I wonder if that had anything to do with the absence of them now. Almost certainly not. The areas where I hung my traps were small, and I could not have made more than a small dent in their numbers, just on this property. So the survivors have secreted themselves back into the ground, so as to metamorphosize into the next stage that their life cycle demands, and also to serve as mole meals but not enough that the little green rascals won't re-emerge in full force next summer.

I wonder how Japanese beetles got that name. The sources I have checked all say that they originally came not from Japan but, more vaguely, from southeast Asia. I have been wondering about this because if their depredations were as strong in Japan as they are here, surely the Japanese, being the ingenious and dedicated people that they are, would have long ago developed ways to curb them, given the wonderful gardens for which they are renowned. My suspicion is that the name is an intentional slander, maybe born of the Second World War.

Wherever the beetles came from, what were the conditions and the predators that kept them in check? Here, for two months at least, the conditions for them are just right, and there are no predators around. The only creatures I have seen that enjoy feasting on Japanese beetles are chickens, who snap them up as if they are the choicest bits of candy. But you need predators that are agile and fly at least a few feet off the ground. Chickens are too clunky in both those departments.

Japanese beetles are a surefire argument against the concept of Intelligent Design, if you consider appreciation of floral beauty to be a mark of intelligence. Instead they seem to have been born in moments of inspired. malevolence. They seem to be specially programmed to attack and to decimate the very blooms that you've been waiting the longest to see, and they're not very smart, either, about smacking into cylindrical yellow and green contraptions hundreds of times their size that they take to be sex objects.

But I have to say that, like guns, though their effects are objectionable, Japanese beetles are admirably constructed when looked at close up and away from their work. The very fine online site called Webshots, which supplies the largest and best collection of wallpaper and screensaver photos that I have seen, has an extremely close-up shot of an ordinary house fly, and viewed from that perspective the fly is a thing of great beauty, with all its various plates gleaming in a profusion of shapes and colors. Japanese beetles must be much the same, with their metallic browns, greens, and blacks.

In spite of my attitude toward their dietary likings, I can appreciate other things about Japanese beetles besides the way they'e been machined. They don't stay all summer long, and they don't eat everything, though it sometimes seems that way.


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