What’s the most commonly eaten insect on earth? How do dung beetles help farmers around the globe? What do insects, bonsai trees and haikus have in common? *
Preserve visitors explored these questions, and many more, with Dr. Marjorie Rhine on October 23, 2021. Dr. Rhine, a professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, led 18 participants on a hike entitled “Insect Super-Powers in Japanese Pop Culture”. The event, organized and sponsored by the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, was part of the 2021 Wisconsin Science Festival. Dr. Rhine engaged visitors with bark and beetles before the hike. During the walk, she used hand puppets and illustrations from an elegant scrapbook to make her points. In addition, she recruited a friend, Dr. Andrea Gargas, to talk about fungi they encountered on the walk.
Strolling down Picnic Point, participants discovered a myriad of invertebrates while discussing their connections to past and present cultures. Slugs, lady bugs, galls, bees, crickets, dragonflies, and (of course) beetles were all examined for their superpowers.
The conversation incorporated conservation; a recurring theme along the hike which highlighted how all the components of an ecosystem are intricately connected: trees communicating through underground fungal networks, dung beetles orienting themselves by the light of the Milky Way, and prairie plants helping to initiate butterfly migration by causing hormonal shifts in monarchs.
The thread that tied all of the group’s observations together was how the intricate ecology of the Lakeshore Preserve is linked to our own lives, present society, and to cultures of the past. Dr. Rhine pointed out how samurai armor is segmented, much like the protective and versatile bodies of insects, how the miraculous metamorphosis of larva to adult butterfly represents hope and rebirth in many cultures, and how many pop icons like Pokémon and Transformers are ideas derived from insects.
The hike was capped off with participants doing the “waggle dance”. A form of communication that is important in bee communities, the waggle dance is how honeybees communicate precise coordinates of a food source to other bees in their colony. Using dance moves to indicate direction (relative to the orientation of the sun) and distance (the duration of the dance) two young Friends waggled their way to a cache of fruit snacks hidden within the Biocore Prairie. A sweet ending to a sensational walk.
* Answers: 1) beetles 2) they improve livestock health and soil quality by “recycling” feces 3) they encapsulate infinitely complex concepts into tiny, elegant packages. Friends Host, report and photos: Seth McGee
Explore these links to learn more about the fascinating world of insects and the interconnectedness of life on Earth.
My Garden of a Thousand Bees (PBS doc)
Suzanne Simard Ted talk about how trees talk
Grave of the Fireflies - Trailer (animated movie)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Trailer (animated movie)
Fantastic Fungi - Trailer (documentary)
The Overstory (novel)
NOVA episode of edible insects
About dung beetles' navigational abilities