Sunday 7 September 2008

Insects Live Furiously

Today I am inspired by insects. It doesn't take much. But I am going to London soon and this is one place I think I will have to visit while I am there (except that it doesn't open until early next year... groo). One house. 17 million insects. Right in the middle of the city. This is very very exciting. This is the kind of thing that would make a gal move to London. Just to be close to them. Just to visit them every day. Just to be near humans who say things like, "The point is that I have a huge amount of admiration for these kinds of flies." The scientist in question is talking about maggots that go to live in human corpses that he then collects and investigates.

This article is so full of people who are passionate about insects. It makes me long for the tribe. There is a place there called the Insect Information Service and it is staffed by a man who is the " 'go to' man for the whole world's bugs." Hurrah! Here is what he says: "There are 23,500 insects and spiders in Britain and no one knows all of them, but I know most... My single mission in life is to make people more aware of the life around them. It mystifies me that people are interested in what's on Mars when all of this stuff is at their feet to be handled and touched." Swoon.

And there is a female mite specialist, who is married to the Curator of Cockroaches. This needs to be made into a movie.

So it is a long article. This is the anecdotal visceral emotional core of it:

"Hall is the country's leading forensic scientist, his speciality being the study of maggots in flesh wounds to discover the precise time of a murder.

He is a wry and engaging figure, a man who should be a TV drama series. He greets me with a selection of fattened maggots in pots, a kind of juju necklace of maggots removed from the rear end of a sheep, and a series of graphic photographs of wounds (mostly in live animals) in which maggots are making hay. In among the photographs are a couple of pictures of his own legs and arms with livid sores.

'I had a personal experience of some of this after I came back from Bolivia one time,' he explains matter of factly, 'along with the maggot of a botfly in my leg. They can eventually get quite large,' - he opens a 2in gap between thumb and forefinger - 'so I could feel this movement and I could see the tip of the maggot coming up to breathe and going back down.'

What did he do?

'Well you can't really squeeze them out, because they have these backward facing spines. You need surgery. I had a couple in my arm, too. I discovered if you put Vaseline over them they can't breathe and tend to back out of their own accord, eventually.' "

Ok, I've just realised that the insects will actually be dead, not living, and so, the whole heartbeatingly exciting spectacle of Lucy wandering blissfully through an eight storey cocoon of fucking and fighting insects has vanished in the space of a paragraph. London can breathe its smoggy air safely again. But I like this bit a lot:

"In the heart of the new building the Natural History Museum will also be putting its greatest living wonders on show: its staff of 220 scientists will be presented in full view of the public.

At intervals, along the winding descent through the dramatic cocoon, these rare creatures will be viewed behind glass at their work stations, preparing petri-dishes, peering through microscopes, eating lunch, perhaps grabbing an afternoon nap. At various points the public will have the opportunity to interact directly with them, to ask questions and to examine experiments."




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