The other week, we took Eva to visit some friends of the family who live a few miles away. The main inducement was easy access to a quiet portion of the Little Juniata River, and the promise of good crayfish hunting there. Their interest was scientific or aesthetic rather than culinary, though Eva is from a part of the country where crawdads are considered a delicacy. But how do you find creatures that are almost the exact color of the mud they burrow in?
While the kids honed their crustacean search images, I went hunting for smaller invertebrates. Along the shore, several foot-long bays seethed with tiny rowboats — the aquatic insects known by the somewhat redundant name “water boatmen” (family Corixidae). Their bodies are fully submersible crafts; they have the enviable ability to capture bubbles between the hairs on their bodies and turn them into shiny wetsuits of air.*
It was a hot and humid late afternoon, and everything seemed a little stunned. In the woods along the river, I found a daddy longlegs resting quietly on a small black cherry leaf, rather like the Little Prince,
while nearby, a long-legged cranefly took the opposite approach, suspending itself between several sassafras leaves. Clearly, it was a good place to hang out.
In the adjacent wetland — which was rather parched on account of the drought — a question mark butterfly also seemed intent on doing not very much at all. Of course, it’s the larvae of the species that do most of the work, including locate their proper host plants, elms and nettles. Once they emerge from their chrysalises, life slows down. The females lay eggs hither and yon, as the mood strikes them.
A white moth floated dead on the surface of a muddy pool. I wondered whether, like the Chinese poet Li Bai, it had drowned while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon. You never know. Back at the river, Eva’s newfound hunting buddy Nathan took a fall that he swore was an accident, and totally unrelated to his previous pleas to be allowed to swim. So much of the hunting impulse seems driven by pure envy of the prey.
*UPDATE: Rebecca Clayton thinks that the bugs in the photo are more likely to be juvenile water striders (see comments). After checking out several reference sources, I’m inclined to agree.