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Offbeat – 13 September 2013

The story of the bees and the neonicotinoid pesticides is well documented. There are other issues that aren’t so well understood.


I used to watch a lot of science fiction movies, back then when I had time to do that sort of stuff, and I hadn’t seen enough movies to be able to predict their plots five minutes into the show. Aside from the stories, and the space ships, the aliens used to grab me. Their strange appearances were a source of wonder.
The creatures that showed up in the films of the Fifties and Sixties were painful to watch. Star Trek was a primary source of alien eye-candy, but it became a bit insipid. The little balls of fluff known as the Tribbles were mildly amusing, not very exciting. The biggest source of amusement was looking for the seams on the costumes. The real breakthrough showed up with Star Wars.
The first time I saw the first film was a magical experience. The space ships were incredible. Then the scene in the bar appeared on screen and my jaw dropped. I haven’t analysed my reaction to that scene, but I can still remember how my mind swam at all the different creatures, perceived through new eyes for the first time.
There was a paradigm shift as well in that scene. Before that, aliens were always presented as hostile threats or creatures that were difficult to understand and coexist with. In that scene, humans and aliens appeared side by side as if it was normal. As cinematic moments go, I think its importance is underrated.
Here’s a bit of trivia. The bar was called the Mos Eisley Cantina, after the pirate space port of Mos Eisley in which it was located.
Aliens have become routine now. Children begin to see them at an early age on the electric nanny, the television set. Shows like Teletubbies in the Nineties introduced them at toddler level. The visual excitement of seeing them rapidly degenerates into a jaded state of blah.
The closest thing I get to that level of strangeness now is the realm of insects.
There are plenty of photos of them, from the fake viral of the huge camel spider, to the fairly regular web galleries of macro photography that  win viewers with combinations of amazement and horror. They aren’t quite as interesting as the real things, the stuff that you find in the garden or the veld.
Insects used to be toys. Shongololos made cool toy trains. I’m not sure what the corn crickets were about, but they could be collected in numbers and put in a box to make a fun terrarium. The fact that they used to eat one another was a bit disturbing.
Nowadays, I see wild cockroaches when I water the plants, and my cat brings locusts into the house for her own amusement, not mine. I can’t find any joy at cockroaches or swarms of ants in the house and put down or spray poisons.
I ought to be smarter about that. I shouldn’t leave crumbs lying and I should make more of an effort to wipe in the nooks and hard-to-get-to crannies. My use of pesticides is part of the reason that the things are so few and far between now, compared to childhood with the veld as a playground.
Awareness of climate change and biodiversity brings the importance of insects into sharp relief. The story of the bees and the neonicotinoid pesticides is well documented. There are other issues that aren’t so well understood.
From what I gather, climate change will change the surface temperature of the soil (obviously). This will change the ecology of insects found at the surface. Bugs and things spread seeds. Earthworms aerate the soil. Tok-tokkies spread the fertiliser. If these creepy crawlies aren’t around to do their jobs, the situation is best described as a mess, but is more likely to be catastrophic.
The corn crickets aren’t so evident anymore. The normal crickets aren’t too common either. Perhaps there will come a day when a household cockroach is something unusual and all the talk about them being able to survive a nuclear war will be proven irrelevant because they couldn’t survive humanity.
I can’t really say what will happen, other than I need to be more industrious about wiping in the kitchen, in the interests of our little alien buddies.

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