Sunday, June 12, 2016

A. V. Koshy

An Epic on Childhood - 21 - Kuzhiyaana

you are called an elephant
and also an ant!
and a hole-elephant!
you burrow into sand
your house is a great world's architectural wonder and marvel
for me, a poor mite
poring over it
watching your grey body
and your tail or fin like appurtenances
so soft to the hand
tiny, furry, miniscule
you vanish inside
i love you, little critter
you do not ever harm


1 comment:

  1. "Kuzhiyaana" seems to be a punning reference to the poet himself. But the insects (or at least the larvae) are called antlions in most European and Middle Eastern languages, and have been so designated for thousands of years. The scientific name (Myrmeleo) is derived from the Greek "mýrmex" (ant) and "léon" (lion). Perhaps they get their name from their diet consisting chiefly of ants, with "lion" suggesting a destroyer or hunter. They are a group of about 2,000 species distributed worldwide, though the greatest diversity occurs in the tropics. They are mostly known for the fiercely predatory habits of their larvae, which in many species dig pits to trap passing ants and other arthropods as large as small spiders. In North America, the larvae are called "doodlebugs" because the odd winding, spiralling trails they leave in the sand when relocating resemble doodlings. In the southern United States, people may recite a poem or chant to make the doodlebug come out of its hole, and similar practices are common in Africa, the Caribbean, China, and Australia. The adult insects are sometimes known as antlion lacewings but are often misidentified as dragonflies or damselflies. They live in a range of usually dry, sandy habitats including open woodland floors, scrub-clad dunes, hedge bases, river banks, and road verges, as well as under raised buildings and in vacant lots. Some larvae hide under debris or ambush their prey among leaf litter. In Japan, Dendroleon jezoensis larvae lurk on the surface of rocks for several years awaiting prey, often becoming coated with lichen. The antlion's steep-sloped trap, that guides prey into the larva's mouth while avoiding crater avalanches, is one of the simplest and most efficient traps in the animal kingdom. In the words of Jean-Henri Fabre, "The Ant-lion makes a slanting funnel in the sand. Its victim, the Ant, slides down the slant and is then stoned, from the bottom of the funnel, by the hunter, who turns his neck into a catapult." The larva digs a pit about 2 in (5 cm) deep and 3 in (7.5 cm) wide at the edge. After marking a chosen site with a circular groove, it crawls backwards, using its abdomen as a plow. It uses one front leg to place heaps of loosened particles on its head and jerks each little pile away from the scene of operations. As it moves slowly moves around, the pit becomes deeper, until the slope reaches the critical angle of repose (the steepest angle the sand can maintain). When the pit is completed, the larva settles down at its bottom, buried with only the jaws protruding above the surface, often in a wide-open position on either side of the cone's tip. The larva is extremely sensitive to low-frequency vibrations made by an insect while it moves across the ground; the larva locates the vibration source by the timing differences of sound waves detected by the receptors (tufts of hair) on the sides of the two hindmost thoracic segments. Since the sides of the pit consist of loose sand at the angle of repose, they afford an insecure foothold to any small insect that ventures over the edge; slipping to the bottom, it is immediately seized by the antlion; if it attempts to scramble up the walls of the pit, the larva throws showers of loose sand, which undermines the sides of the pit, causing them to collapse and bring the prey down with them. Within a few moments of seizing the prey with its jaws and injecting it with venom and enzymes, the larva begins to suck out the digestion products through hollow projections in its jaws. After it consumes the fluids, it flicks the dry carcass out of the pit. Then the larva throws out any collapsed material from the center and restores the angle of repose. When it first hatches, the larva specializes in tiny insects, but as it grows larger it constructs bigger pits and catches larger prey, sometimes much larger than itself.


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