This morning, before the rainy front moved in, I heard a remarkable thing — crickets singing softly from the long grass under a powerline (field crickets, genus Gryllus, I think). We’ve had several hard freezes, two modest snowstorms, and the days are about as short as they get. Yet, they sing on.
Our culture has a long tradition of moralizing about these singing orthopterans, starting but not ending with Aesop.
Wastrel Fools! Squandering summer while the provident ants buckle under and work.
Or, Happy Fools! Sing while you can, for tomorrow we die.
As the title of this post suggests, the crickets seem to me to offer an alterantive to Dylan Thomas’ rage — why not sing, sing as you go gentle into that good night? A song is more defiant than rage.
So far, so good. These little tales are hardly masterful works of nuanced allegory, but they make their point. What the literary encrustations don’t do is honor the actual insects. We see ourselves reflected in their lives, but the mirror itself is invisible.
Here’s a brief take from a biologist’s perspective: evolution has molded each species to the particularities of the ecological situation. There are many ways of being a successful insect. Diversity wins the day.
Crickets overwinter as eggs, a thrifty strategy that requires no food stores. In the spring and summer, the eggs will hatch and several generations of crickets will follow before the winter comes again. Ants overwinter as colonies of sterile workers tending their fecund queen (she truly is “the 1%”). Because the colony has so many workers, it needs food stores to make it through the winter. Both strategies have worked for tens of millions of years.
Ironically, ants also eat cricket eggs to make it through the winter. In fact, hungry ants are a major source of mortality for cricket eggs. So, it seems that we need each other after all.
Hello? Aesop, are you there?