Once Upon an Odour

Stink bugs round table talk.jpgOnce upon a time, the stink bug had no stink. It was simpler time, but the times were changing, and gradually they fell prey to the wolves of the rainforest; the owlflies, and wasps, spiders and centipedes. These bugs, they had to do something! And so the most gallant of all the bugs stepped forward and said “I have a sword! This sword was handed down to me by my ancestors and their ancestors before them. It has always been right here on my back, and though I have never had to use it, I am certain, it will protect us. This family heirloom and legacy, we call it Darwin’s Flame! With this, I shall fend off the wolves!”

Cyrtocoris sp.

And so the next day, this Sir Gallant left the safe confines of their leafy home. “Come, eat me if you dare!” – he shouted into the air. A bird, attracted to the sound, saw this foolish bug out in the open, with what looked like only a small thorn to protect himself. This thorn was no match for his beak, so he swooped in and ate him up. All that was left of Sir Gallant was the small spine which had done nothing to protect him. And so the long and proud lineage of Sir Gallant came to an end, and the bugs were left with no swords or thorns, no one to protect them, and they were all very afraid once again.

Stink bugs round table talk 1

The bugs once again huddled together, “What are we to do? Sir Gallant, he was the bravest of us bugs, if he can’t fend off the wolves, then how are we to do it?” Then stepped forward the most clever and brilliant of the bugs. I have an idea he said in a voice barely above a whisper, and all the other bugs leaned in to listen to what he had to say. “I will paint my body red and black. I have observed the birds, they do not eat the red and black bugs, they leave them alone!” There was not the twitch of an antenna, the buzz of a cicada or the stridulation of a cricket to be heard. Not only were the bugs amazed by the intelligence of this plan, but other insects from nearby, the beetles, and the katydids, the ants and the wasps, they watched and listened in wonder, and had their own ideas on what to make of this. “I call this Mimicry!” – declared Brainy bug, “and tomorrow we will be afraid no longer!”.

And so the next day, Brainy bug stepped out from their leafy home. He was painted in red and black, from the seeds and fruits of the nearby trees. Brainy bug was the smartest of all the bugs, but he was not very brave. And so he didn’t shout like Sir Gallant had, but he slowly walked over to the juiciest fruit, on the furthest branch and took a long sip from the tasty sugars. It was delicious! He couldn’t get enough, he drank and he drank, he forgot about everything else. Hours went by until he had finally filled up. But in that time, the clouds had come in, and the rain had begun to fall. Brainy bug looked at the rain and he was very afraid. He hurried back to his leafy home, but he had chosen the furthest branch with the juiciest fruit, and he was very far away indeed. As he ran, the red and black paints slowly drained away. “Oh no” he cried! And just then, the same bird heard his cry, saw this foolish bug out in the open, and with not even a thorn to protect himself! “Now that’s not a very smart bug” the bird said to himself, as he swooped in and ate up Brainy bug.

The other bugs looked on in horror. First Sir Gallant, and now Brainy bug! They huddled together once more, now, Very frightened! “What are we to do!?” The bugs couldn’t decide, some thought that they should hide under the leaves and wood like the wood bugs, others thought maybe they should only go out at night, when the bird was sleeping. “If we can’t change what we are, then maybe we can change how we behave?” This idea was voted on by all the bugs but one, the Stink bug. He was not allowed into the group meetings, and when he passed by, all the other bugs held their noses and made fun of him. Stink bug was very sad. He went back to his family. “What did they say? Did you vote?” His Stink Wife asked Stink bug. “”No, they wouldn’t let me into the meeting”. Stink Wife wrapped her arms around stink bug and told him not to worry, one day, everyone would know his name.

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And so the next night, one by one, the bugs went out while the bird that had eaten Sir Gallant and Brainy bug was sleeping. They moved quickly and quietly. They stepped carefully over sticky cobwebs, and sharp spines, until they made it to the juiciest of fruits. There they drank. It had been a long time since they had had such a good drink, and so they drank and they drank. But something wasn’t right. “Hey did you hear that?”- Skinny bug said, looking around. “Hey, has anyone seen Angry bug?” Sleepy bug looked about in between yawns, “No, I haven’t seen”…and just then sleepy bug disappeared. The bird was not the only predator, there was something else there, something in the night. And one by one, slowly, all the bugs were eaten up.

Stink bug woke up the next morning, kissed Stinky Wife good morning, and went out to the juiciest of fruits and he drank and drank, just like he always had. Stink bug and Stinky Wife had lots and lots of Stinky children. They were So stinky, that no one touched them. When baby bird swooped in one day to eat one of Stinky bugs children, he stopped “Pee Yoo. Take a bath!!!” he said, and flew off. And so Stinky bugs children had children that grew up to be just as stinky, maybe even more so!

And that’s how the stink bug got its stink – through the evolution of aldehyde, and additional biochemicals reflected in incremental changes in its DNA, whilst other less desirable or else less effective traits were naturally selected out of the gene pool.

Brain over brawn, but stink – stink over all!

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