Some soft sunny days shout out for relaxing on some close cropped hillside, lying back, eyes closed against the sun, hands digging into the soft sheep nibbled downland grass. Ears only just aware of the lazy drone of contented, clover feeding bees. Bird song, a pleasant background, harmonizing maybe with the gentle, watery bubble over pebble, sound of a distant stream. Easy days. Easy thoughts. All is well with the world. All is peace.
Unfortunately, rarely is a moment peaceful on this planet of ours. It is, like Lord Byron, mad, bad and dangerous, world. Prey and preyed, hunter and hunted. That grass full of enough murder and mayhem to fill some novels. Those valleys full of … well you get the drift. Today in the last of this world build A-Z blogs, I am chatting, without any great depth, on how some maxamize their chances. Well, all the deceits of the world – not enough space you say and I agree, so I am only going to touch fleetingly upon deceit and trickery.
Beginning, because today is a Z day, with the Zebra, I wasn’t going that way at all, however my theme has been world build and this crazy looking horse is part of the fantastical side of our planet. Camouflage! I grew up wondering why black and white stripes on the open savannas equalled camouflage? The lions don’t see colour, I was told. Well, okay, maybe in that case… lions think the stripes are wavy grasses! Ah come on
Slowly over the years it became, the stripes confuse the predators; then, the mass of stripes, presented by the herd, stopped the lions from distinguishing just one animal. Maximizing an individual's chance. Getting better, after all that is how some birds and some fish live to fight another day. So zebra stripes were designed to help camouflage them. Lately, there is an extra theory for those stripes, not necessarily doing away with confusion. It is thought that they also help to distract and ward of the tsetse and horse flies of the savanna, both of which can cause serious illness /or death to the animal. These two flies do not like confusing black and white stripes either.. Nice one zebra.
It is a dangerous place this planet, full of unexpected hazards, it behoves one to have some kind of protection. Is it unkind of me to call it deceit? No. The different ploys are supposed to deceive predators.
Everywhere one looks within the animal kingdom we find them. But we can only guess at some. Do butterflies appear to have the pattern of eyes on their wings to startle a predator, or to draw the predator towards attacking the wing and leaving the vulnerable body part alone. Some butterflies do appear to have many attacks on the wing area, by the end of each season they are quite tattered and torn. Maybe it is both. Those with eyes startle the predator into thinking it’s a tougher predator and for others it is the pattern which disturbs.
Striking patterns are often a warning of toxicity. Snakes display them and those of the waspish persuasion do. Black and yellow stripes often mean poison. So if by having these stripes you can avoid being eaten, it is a splendid idea, so we have the harmless hover fly all primped up and darting around like a child in her mothers high heels. It may not fool me – I have read the books – but it does help protect them.
I have in my garden, occasionally, they are becoming quite rare now, Cinnabar moths, beautiful crimson, little day flying moths. Now in the UK we are used to the majority of our moths being night flyers and pretty drab. The cinnabar flits out there in plain view, but it rarely gets eaten by the birds. It is red. It tastes nasty (apparently, I haven’t I confess tried it;:) The birds keep away.
Then there are those who blend in, either by disguising themselves, caterpillars who look like bird shit, crabs who fling seaweed and the like over themselves to look like a rock, and those such as moths who resemble the bark of a tree, or the chameleon and octopus, who can change their colour to match their background. Think stick insects or Praying Mantis. Masters at vanishing.
Anything which will maximise their chance of eating or not being eaten. Try finding all the green caterpillars on the brassicas:( one will always be overlooked to wreck havoc. Those caterpillars who much ones lunch with visible stripes evolved to put off the birds, not me – I find all of those:)
Some will use speed, some sloth. Others will curl into agonisingly, nose spiking balls, and others retreat into hard shells. Some will enlarge themselves alarmingly, others will change their voices to deep, loud signs of strength. Mass of numbers, erratic movements, sudden plummets, or stops, quick agile turn arounds, amazing jumps and quick dashes underground. There are many ways of avoiding predation. There are many ways of hunting.
No, our glorious planet is not a peaceful idyllic place. Not for the beasties, not for us humans. It is an unpredictable, interesting, exciting, terrible, awe inspiring planet. Out there in the universe. glorious in its blues, greens and browns.
There is not an invented world around to match it.