It’s human nature to get excited about the “charismatic megafauna” around us. Let’s face it: polar bears, elephants and eagles are impressive. But what about the other 99% of life on this planet? Where is the cheering section for sea slugs? Is there a “Hug a Millipede” campaign? What about bladderworts? As a naturalist, many people ask me what my favorite animal is, or they want to know my area of expertise. It’s a difficult question to answer because the more I learn about my fellow beings on this chunk of space debris, the more fascinating I find each to be.
Recently my friend over at Saratoga Woods and Waterways posted a wonderful millipede photo. It wasn’t your common garden variety millipede that measures about an inch long and disappears with a ripple of legs almost as soon as you see it. It was a larger specimen, with pink legs and a lovely pin-striped appearance to its carapace.
We used to have giant African millipedes at the zoo where I worked; they were as big around as your little finger and a good five or so inches long. I’ve seen specimens even larger! To let one crawl across your hand is a sensation unparalleled by any other. Most folks are creeped out by it. A few months after I left the zoo I found myself hiking along the trail above Machu Picchu in Peru, and there in the path was a large millipede. I was very excited and picked it up. I eagerly tried to share it with a pair of young hikers going the other direction. I think they thought there was something wrong with me; not everyone is open to new experiences.
Most recently I’ve been developing a keen interest in insects, especially bees. I’ve even contemplated starting a hive in the my backyard. This would be a shock to anyone who knew me growing up: I was notorious for my fear (terror) of stinging insects and overall dislike of insects in general. Over the years, however, I’ve learned to appreciate them all, and the more I read about them, and the more I watch them in my gardens or the woods or along shorelines, the more interesting they become. Tiger beetles, dung beetles, dragonflies, digger bees – there just isn’t enough time in one life to learn about them all!
Sure, I love bats and snakes, weasels and wildflowers. Even fish and fungi are food for thought. I drift towards nature’s underdogs because “everyone” deserves to be appreciated. We fear, dislike, or simply ignore those things we don’t know or understand. I guess, in the final analysis, my favorites are the underdogs, and I make it a point to try and get others to, at the very least, develop an appreciation for those beings they dislike. But be warned: when you learn something’s true nature, it can become dear to you.
Photo Credit: Large millipede photo by Jackie at Saratoga Woods and Waterways