The other day, when I posted a thingy on Facebook about the wasps in my chickadee house, I got all sorts of advice. The thread got long. Halfway through, Bruce tossed in a few paragraphs and added “I’m an entomologist.” Joshua came back with more wisdom and said “I’m an entomologist, too.” Then I was all “Me too! I’m an entomologist!!” out of sheer exuberance, until I remembered I’m not actually an entomologist and deleted it. And then Eric jumps in the fray. He didn’t even mention he is an entomologist, but he doesn’t have to, because he’s like the Queen Bee entomologist of all time. So that’s three entomologists on one thread. Not counting me, who is more accurately a non-entomologist, a.k.a. retired mailman.
This is all very handy if there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know, or if, as in my own case, there’s a lot of stuff you knew for a second but not anymore. For instance, when I found a new bug the other day, I could probably have posted a photo of it and gotten an immediate identification from several of my friends. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a pest, and I also wanted to try to identify it myself, old-school. I searched online.
Man, there are a lot of bugs.
First site I checked out suggested I note the habitat, because certain bugs are found in certain habitats. My bug was on my clothesline. He really liked my clothesline. He wouldn’t get off my clothesline. Eventually I hung the whitey-tighties on either side of him and he didn’t even flinch like a normal person would. There was no clothesline-habitat section on the website.
Then it asked if my bug had six legs or eight. It said if there were six, it was “most likely” an insect. I know why they hedged. You can’t keep little boys from ripping legs off a spider. Similarly, if you see a glowing abdomen, it’s most likely a lightning bug; but if it’s all by itself in the middle of a little boy’s forehead, it’s an ex-insect and a shitty little boy.
I wasn’t really getting anywhere.
Fortunately, I found a dichotomous key. You all know what that is. Dichotomous earth is what you put around your vegetables to keep the slugs out. No wait! I’m thinking of slug bait! A dichotomous key is what you use to figure out if what you have is a Backson, and if so, if it’s a Spotted or Herbaceous one. The key asks you a question and you answer A or B. Depending on your answer, you get another question, and eventually it whuffles you down to your bug. So it’s just like going to the optometrist’s.
I’m never really sure if A is better than B there, either.
I started in on the dichotomous key and ended up concluding that I had an insect previously unkown to science, which was very exciting. Murrus clotheslinus, or Linus for short! I even searched the Oregon image database of all 331 state bugs and found nothing at all resembling my bug. My bug had wings sticking straight up and curb-feelers coming out of its butt.
Then I saw the image of Japygid diplurian. The whole image was entirely black. The Japygid diplurian is so rarely seen that they didn’t have a picture of it, so it was probably my bug. And what a wonderful bug it was! The Japygid diplurian, it says here, even predated the dinosaurs. You get a bug that size that eats dinosaurs, you’ve got yourself a champion. They say the dinosaurs got wiped out by an asteroid, but it totally might have been the clothesline bugs. Awesome.
Still, hard to tell with no picture. I went back to my dichotomous key. Early on, when it asked if my bug had one pair of wings or two, I’d said one, because that’s all I saw, but they can get really sneaky about hiding wings. I decided to change my answer. This is exactly how I do TurboTax, which is also a dichotomous key. They ask if you’re single or married; over or under 65; like long walks along the beach (yes/no); have any passive carryover losses to report under section 651.4 with a slide-through diddler subject to the Crapmont Contraction between 1979 and 1982. I mark “yes” out of pure fear until it sends me down a rabbit hole of questions I can’t answer, and then I go back and try “no” and everything works again.
Same thing here with the bug.
And there, eventually, under “two pairs of wings,” is my bug. He’s a mayfly. You all knew that already.