The intrigue of nature 

By nature, young children are explorers and discovers. Their purpose is to investigate the world around them and figure out what’s in it, how it works, and how they can get it to work for themselves. It takes little effort on the part of parents and early childhood teachers to nurture this innate curiosity and stimulate an interest in the natural world.

Sharing in the excitement of children’s discoveries is a marvellous experience and something I loved about having my own young children and working in early childhood classrooms, I now have the additional privilege of sharing in the wonder with my grandchildren. I feel very proud watching my two children, their dad and aunt, as together they explore the flora and fauna in our backyard. I know I have done something right.

These are just a few of the wonders we found this year:

The ladybird life cycle on our beautiful wattle tree.

© Bec Colvin

© Bec Colvin

A bee on the same wattle tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A case moth attached to the rainwater tank.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Nuts already forming on my little gum tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Flowers on the native ginger.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Plover eggs in a nest.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

The plover sitting on the eggs.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Fruit on the sandpaper fig.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Bottlebrush sawfly larvae.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A silver orb spider.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Flowers on my wattle tree.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills was talking about having a “looky-loo”, I’d probably call it a “sticky-beak”, at the effects of a river in flood, and described the way that neighbours help each other out, even if they’ve never met before. But Charli dives deep into the analogy of a flooded river, feeling washed out and overwhelmed by the rising tide of fear fuelled by a lack of understanding and appreciation of difference. She pleads for all of us to find our common ground, to realise that, while we are complex and contradictory, we share the same needs and wants. She says that if we don’t understand we should, “Ask, don’t judge. Learn, don’t isolate.”

Charli got me thinking about these issues, as she always does. I wondered, if we value, appreciate and marvel at diversity in the natural world, why don’t we appreciate it in other humans? After all, we are merely part of the natural world. That we have done more than any other species in manipulating it doesn’t alter that fact. Why can’t we all just agree to live and let live? Why do some think otherwise?

These thoughts reminded me of something I had heard in a fascinating TED talk by Ed Yong, called Zombie roaches and other parasite tales. Ed Yong is a science journalist on a mission to “ignite excitement for science in everyone”. He blogs at Not Exactly Rocket Science for National Geographic.

This particular TED talk is fascinating, funny, disgusting and very informative, with a little of something for everyone. He throws in terms like “mind control”, “eaten alive”, and “bursts out of body”. Science fiction has nothing on science fact.

He begins the talk by questioning whether animals choose their behaviour such as gathering in large flocks or herds for safety. He then talks about the popular children’s science “pet” brine shrimp, or sea monkey, and the ways in which a parasitic tapeworm influences the shrimp’s behaviour to enable its own reproductive cycle. He says, “The tapeworm hijacks their brains and their bodies, turning them into vehicles for getting itself into a flamingo.”

But that is just the first of his stories of animals behaving in ways as a result of the mind-control of parasites. He describes others and says that “Manipulation is not an oddity. It is a critical and common part of the world around us, and scientists have now found hundreds of examples of such manipulators, and more excitingly, they’re starting to understand exactly how these creatures control their hosts.

He describes a wasp that attacks a cockroach and “un-checks the escape-from-danger box in the roach’s operating system”. I wondered if this same box could be un-checked in humans. Not surprisingly, Ed went on to discuss humans but said that our methods of mind control were fairly primitive compared to the techniques of parasites. He said that this is what makes the study of parasites so compelling. We value our free will and fear having our minds controlled by others, but this situation occurs all the time in nature.

Yong then asks what he considers an obvious and disquieting question:

“Are there dark, sinister parasites that are influencing our behaviour without us knowing about it …?

He talks about a parasite that manipulates cats, a parasite that many people have in their brains. While there is no conclusive evidence of parasitic manipulation of human behaviour, Yong suggests that “it would be completely implausible for humans to be the only species that weren’t similarly affected.” I urge you to have a looky-loo at the now not-so-secret behaviour of these parasites. I’m certain you will be as entertained as you are informed and challenged.

So from a looky-loo in my backyard to a looky-loo at the world of parasites we come to my response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a looky-loo.

Copy-cat Sticky-beak

High in the branches Maggie practised her repertoire.  She watched people scurrying: erecting tents and marking long white lines.  She absorbed the rhythm of new songs: thump-thump, clink-clink.

She breakfasted on scarab beetles and was ready when the children arrived. But they didn’t notice her playful mimicry. Instead they flooded the field with colourful shirts and excited chatter.

Maggie watched silently. Soon she heard an unfamiliar song: “Go team, go team, go!” She flew to the top of the biggest tent and joined in. The children listened, then cheered. Maggie felt she’d almost burst. Instead she sang, and sang.

Perhaps we could learn from the magpie, one who looks, listens and learns and shows appreciation for others in the most sincere form of flattery: singing their song.

I love awakening to the beautiful songs of the magpie every morning. I chose to share this particular video, as yesterday we were also visited by a beautiful king parrot such as the one featured in this video. Awesome.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

36 thoughts on “The intrigue of nature 

  1. Sherri

    What an absolutely fascinating post Norah. I can’t get over that you have parrots visiting you, having only ever seen them in captivity, and I’m not sure our magpies mimic like yours…or perhaps they do, I need to check that out, but I’ve never heard one make a sound like that! I recently watched a programme about the way some parasites take over their hosts as you describe here, I was fascinated but also appalled, not being one for bugs. Very thought-provoking about us humans…this takes manipulation to a new high and now I’m giving my cats the look! Seriously though, this really has me thinking. Love your beautiful photos and your flash I have to say is one of my favourites. And I’ve never heard the phrase ‘sticky-beak’…but now I know 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post, Sherri. We do have quite a variety of birds around us here, though I tend to hear them more than see them. The king parrots are absolutely beautiful. They have visited a few times but not often. The neighbours have some sunflowers and he went from here to there. I’ll be happy to see him over the fence if he happens to be attracted to the sunflowers.
      It would be interesting to know if your magpie sings. The Australian magpie is renowned for its singing. Apparently songbirds originated in Australia and migrated out.
      I agree with you – fascinating and appalling bugs. Nature is incredible. I don’t know why we don’t just learn about it as we grow up instead of being fed science fiction. In my opinion there is nothing in science fiction that can match science fact.
      I wonder is “sticky-beak” endemic to Australia.
      Thank you for your lovely comment.
      Best wishes for the Christmas season and 2016. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Sherri

        Thank you Norah…and that is a fascinating fact about songbirds migrating out of Australia, I never knew that! And science fact is definitely something to behold 🙂 Haha…must be on the ‘sticky-beak’ Definitely a new one on me! Hugs back to you too…and the Happiest of Christmas wishes!

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        Reply
  2. Sacha Black

    Awesome post, my head is now twisted and messed up trying to figure out if I’m being eaten or controlled!! sounds like a horror show to me. I am going to watch this TED talk later 😀 Beautiful flash as always ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      It definitely does mess with our heads! I think it’s right up your science fiction alley. If only it wasn’t science fact! 🙂
      Thanks for your comment re the flash. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Yay! Some time off is coming your way. I hope you have lots of fun. I’m sure there’ll be lots to do, but with time off there’s always a little more time for fun! Enjoy! If you do watch the video, let me know what you think of it please. 🙂

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          Reply
  3. julespaige

    Little one is napping and I’m not sure where my headphones are… so I’ll have to come back to the voiced parts. The Nightingale is another bird that mimics other birds, but for detraction. And it kind of me upset that the gal who told me about the Nightingale said she didn’t like them at all. Poor birds – just because they have adapted.

    I didn’t get to the parasite talk either – but I remember one science show that told viewers that at night there are little life forms that clean our eyelashes! We humans are a host for minute critters.

    Thanks for stopping by my ‘late’ entry. Dares are awful when we ignore the warning bells. I’m not sure though that Dad was really a victim. Though I believe Miranda knew right from wrong.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Jules. I understand your not wanting to disturb Little one while she is napping. Some things are just not as important as a Little one’s sleep.
      Thanks for sharing your story about the nightingales. We don’t have them here. I always think of the Hans Christian Anderson story when I hear of them.
      I have heard that about the mites on our eyelashes too, and in lots of other parts that I’d rather not think about! On thing that always terrified me was the story about tiny snails that are ingested on lettuce leaves and burrow their way to the brain. I have never read up on this to see if it is true. I think I prefer believing it’s just a story! 🙂
      Thanks for providing extra context for your story. I drop by whenever I can. It’s always good to catch up.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. julespaige

        I went back to refresh my memory to the Hans Christian Anderson story. And I let Little Miss Listen to the Magpie. She was very astute I think to ask the name of the other bird and I had to go back and look to see who the Magpie was singing to or with. 🙂

        Not sure if I’m of the mind to dream on parasites at the moment… so maybe I’ll get back to the speaker another time 😉

        I like your insects. One of these days I’ll figure out how to post mine. This summer I took close ups of a non poisonous comparatively small daddy long leg spider, some green caterpillars that may have been for common cabbage moths and also a swallowtail caterpillar. And lovely dragonfly too.

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        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          I’m pleased to hear Little Miss wanted to know the name of the other bird and that you went back and looked it up for her. The best way to encourage their questioning is to find out the answers together. What a great role model you are by showing her an interest in nature, that she is valued by answering her questions, and demonstrating that if you don’t know something you can always find out. Well done. Sometimes these things we do can seem inconsequential, but they are more powerful than you think. 🙂
          I hope you do figure out how to share your insect photos. I’d love to see them.
          Best wishes to you and Little Miss, and all the family, for the holidays season.
          Don’t worry about the parasites. They can wait. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  4. Pingback: Have a Looky-Loo « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Charli Mills

    You post really digs deep, and hopeful nothing else is digging that deep into my mind! Such interesting thoughts about parasitic mind-control. Haven’t some human personalities mastered that? I really enjoyed the looky-loo your photos give. The wattle tree is beautiful. I enjoyed seeing the world through the magpie’s perspective and considering how it gives the gift of singing another’s song. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much, Charli. The thought of anything else controlling my mind, parasitic or human, is indeed scary. But maybe no more than the thought of losing it is.
      I appreciate your kind words re the flash. As I said, I struggled to come up with anything. 🙂

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      Reply
  6. thecontentedcrafter

    I’m commenting then going back to listen to the TED talk……… what a great post Norah! So much to look at and think about and finished with the magpies enthusiastic singing – my puppy and cat gathered about to listen too 🙂 I thought your photo of the sawfly larva fascinatingly attractive yet repellent. I don’t know what a sawfly is so shall have to google that at some stage.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for you lovely comment, Pauline. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. It’s so nice to hear your puppy and cat enjoyed the magpie’s singing too.
      Here is some information for you about the sawfly. I had no idea what they were when we discovered them a few weeks ago. I googled bottlebrush and caterpillar and came up with the answer. How clever: http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/none/cinctus.html
      I love discovering things in the garden. I learn so much! 🙂

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  7. MENTALLY ME (@stuckinscared)

    You do share some gems, Norah…what an incredibly interesting read…and that’s without clicking any links, or watching the video (I’ll try and come back to those). I can’t abide spiders *shudders*, and would most likely scream the house down (as I do) if your fellow up there stuck a leg out…but my word (from a distance) he IS beautiful!

    Another one to show my Littlie…she is creepy crawly mad, and your pics are fabulous, I’ll show her when she gets home this evening.

    I love that I learn something new (or reinforce buried knowledge) each time I hop over here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Kimmie. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post and that you are going to share the photos with Littlie. I’m pleased she’s interested in creepy crawlies. As in many other areas, knowledge helps to overcome fear; unless of course there is real reason for the fear. But that beautiful silver orb spider is harmless to we humans. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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  8. Annecdotist

    Love the photos of nature in your garden, Norah, especially as most of these are unfamiliar over here. And how lovely to watch your children and grandchildren exploring with the curiosity that you have encouraged within them.
    I thought your flash was very clever, and reminded me of our discussions of magpies in the past. But, just checking, was the video of the magpie ADAPTING its call (certainly sounds like high-pitched voices of children playing) because, if not, that’s very different to the sound of magpies here.
    Not wanting to detract from the intended message of the flash, but I couldn’t help thinking that mimicry is often used as a way of disparaging difference – perhaps that’s me being extra touchy as the possessor of a somewhat unusual accent.
    The video was also interesting and entertaining. Coming from a different angle, there’s a fair amount of evidence from psychology of how we are not as much in possession of our own minds as we like to think. And those manipulative characters can certainly get inside us from time to time.
    Another extremely thoughtful and enlightening post.

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    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Anne. I’m pleased you enjoyed the photos. Interesting that you say about my encouraging curiosity in my children. I like to think so, but I think they were/are more effective in re-inspiring mine!
      Magpies are great at mimicking sounds. There used to be one living near us that mimicked the telephone ringing. Now that not many people have landlines with traditional rings, I don’t hear it any more. I would always know when the local school had had its sports day, as the magpies would mimic the children’s “war cries” (the inspiration for my flash). There is a repetitive game that the children play in the playground (clap, clap, knees up, or something) that I hear magpies singing too. I love it. I can hear the warble in the magpie’s song in the video. I assumed it was probably singing female king parrot to the male, but I’m not sure.
      You are correct about mimicry often being disparaging. I hope it didn’t come across that way in my flash. And your accent is unusual for whom? I don’t remember either of us having communication difficulties with our different accents. But maybe we just smiled and nodded. Not!
      I think that evidence is correct. Even when we think we are running away from the herd we seem to end up doing something else just as predictable! Grrr!
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.

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      1. Annecdotist

        No I didn’t think the mimicry was disparaging in your flash at all.
        As to my accent, it’s certainly been modified over the years, but I still often get asked where I’m from. I really appreciate regional accents now, but when I went to university less than a hundred miles away and being rather shy anyway, I found it very hard not to be understood by the posh people from the south (like Geoff!)

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        1. Norah Post author

          Being unable to make your message clear is frustrating, and it would be very painful to have people make fun of your accent. While I don’t always notice my Aussie accent (what accent?) here, it sounds very brash against the lovely lilting accent of Hub’s family’s Northern Irish accents. His isn’t bad either, though I am more attuned to it now. He is often disparaging of the Australian accent and mimics it too, telling us that we pronounce things incorrectly. Well, that’s how we do it here!
          Thanks for sharing your story.

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  9. Bec

    Another lovely post as always. I love learning about the parasites, and funny you mention the cat parasite! We used the example of how some research on the cat parasite was ‘translated’ by the media, and went from being pretty cautious research to being ‘YOUR CAT IS SENDING YOU INSANE’ in the media. But it was fascinating none the less. Great to see all the photos from your garden. It’s always fun to explore, and especially fun now that the little ones are enjoying eating the edibles straight off the plants! I can’t wait to see the gum flowers open. Your flash is lovely, magpies are such sweet creatures. I always say ‘hello’ to them so they know I’m a friend of the birds, but we’re also lucky to wake up to hearing their beautiful song.

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Bec. I hope I didn’t add to any hysteria about parasites. Pirates last week, parasites this week. Sarah Brentyn has found them both repellent. Maybe I need to rethink my selection criteria! I wonder if the content of the article you mention confirmed the headline. I think it’s quite a good headline for grabbing attention, but perhaps misleading if the entire article is not read.
      I love watching you explore the garden; and especially love it when you find things that my eyes overlook! Thank you for your observation and patience.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I really struggled to think of something for this one, but the magpies are amazing songbirds. 🙂

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  10. Sarah Brentyn

    Ugh! Oh! I thought the silver orb spider was disgusting! This is the first post of yours I have EVER stopped reading. UGH! I’m headed to bed now but thank you so much for the parasites and tapeworm images! Ugh, ugh, ugh! *gag* O_o

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      The silver orb spider is beautiful. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It is not harmful to humans. You would not have to worry about it. We do have some dangerous spiders in Australia though. Now huntsman spiders – I’m not keen on them being around, but they do devour a lot of nasty insects. They can also give us a good bite too, especially if hiding in a shoe. However, I have lived a good many years and have never been bitten by a spider. 🙂
      I’m sorry you found the topic of this post disgusting. I would never have taken you for an anti-bug girl. I hope the images didn’t give you nightmares! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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