Wednesday, May 6, 2009

101 Interesting Things, part twelve: Fucking Bugs!

Dave Barry once wrote an article, which I am unable to find online, in which he recounts a story of waking up one morning to discover that he had overslept.  Upon making this discovery, like Archimedes in the tub, he was driven to exclamation - but instead of exclaiming "Eureka," he exclaimed, "Shit!"

This is not the end of the story.

This particular morning was full of discoveries.  In fact, Dave quickly discovered that his young son had crawled into bed with him and his wife during the night, and was currently awake and listening to exactly what Daddy had to say.  Mister Barry took this opportunity to pause for thought, and he realized during these musings that when he had exclaimed that expletive, he was not actually thinking about the referent denoted by that word.  Far from it, he was thinking something along the lines of, "I have overslept and now my day is off to a bad start; this frustrates me."  But that doesn't sound cool when you exclaim it loudly, so instead he said, "Shit."

I experienced a similar story riding my bicycle home from work yesterday evening:  I rode through a swarm of tiny gnats, which got into my eyes and hair and nose and mouth.  After sputtering like a fool for a few moments, I had to do something dignified, or at least indignant (which has some of the same letters), in order to regain my composure.  Instinctively, I exclaimed, "Fucking bugs!"  Remembering the words of Mister Barry, I reflected upon what I had actually intended to express with my vulgar outburst.

Well, as it turns out, gnats mate in swarms.  When you walk through one of those swarms, bugs are sexin' all over you - or at least trying to.  Getting back to my original exclamation, my frustration was directed at the swarm of mating insects, and I believe that I conveyed my emotional status rather well with my tone of voice.  Additionally, the object of my frustration was that very same swarm of mating insects, or fucking bugs.  So I think I did all right.

Also, some guy provides an interesting rough-and-ready explanation of this swarming behavior:
gnats is a generic term for several groups of bugs, all are two-winged flies.

A lot of the males of the various species depend on pheromones secreted by sexually receptive females to find those females. When a female or a group of females becomes receptive, the males flock in from hundreds of yards away and gather around the females.

You end up with a ball of almost all male flies. The reason the ball size stays the same is that the males are responding to the concentration of pheromone - as they buzz around and move away from the source, they correct course and zoom back toward the greatest concentration of pheromone - ie., the female. As a guess: the response time of their pheromone 'radar' and their velocity dictates the size of the ball. Better response time = smaller ball, greater velocity = bigger ball.

Mating balls are common in mosquitoes; they look more like a vortex than a true sphere. You can see them over swampy areas during the day - look across the swamp toward a low angle sun so the mosquitoes are backlit. You'll see lots of them.

Reason for the balls: the males are trying to be the one that mates with the female. She can be very picky. A majority of true fly species mate on solid surfaces, not in flight
Neat stuff. So, the next time you find yourself shouting, "Fucking bugs," after walking through a swarm of gnats, you can rest assured that that's exactly what you're talking about.

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