Monday, May 15, 2017

Nature's Emissaries of Misfortune - or Death

When a black cat crosses your way, don't proceed. Pause for sometime to break the spell. Or go back home and postpone your trip.
Dr Abe V Rotor

Death-watch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) enlarged; tunnels showing powder and frass (excrement) around their openings. (Acknowledgement: Photos from Internet).

1. You can actually hear death knocking in the night.
It’s like an Edgar Allan Poe’s story of death tapping on “a night dark and dreary”, but in this case it is not a raven. It is the Death-watch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum) that we allude to death. It is an insect with an unsavory habit all right. Its name was derived from the scary tapping sound it produces, which is frequently heard during mating period, usually in April or May.

The beetle simply jerks its body forward in rapid succession, and strikes each time with the lower front part of its head against the surface on which it happens to be standing. It gives eight taps in slightly less than a second; and almost before it stops another beetle of its kind that is within hearing distance will respond by tapping back in the same quick manner. In woodworks and furniture that have been attacked by the Death-watch Beetle, the worm holes are large and distinguished by the presence of frass and powder around the openings.

The beetles are from one-fourth to one-third of an inch in length, dark brown in color, spotted and banded irregularly with thick patches of short yellow gray hairs. Pairing takes place after the beetles have made their exit from the wood, and they die a few weeks later, the female in the meantime having laid some 70 eggs. The tapping is of the nature a sexual call, and may be repeated over and over for quite a long time. Grating sound may also be heard as the larvae gnaw on wood inside its tunnel. It takes three years to complete the insect’s life cycle. A more familiar beetle, Anobium punctatum, is called powder post or furniture beetle, named after the dust it scatters at the mouth of its tunnel on furniture.

2. The kingfisher’s throaty voice is a call of death, so the old folks say.
Well, when ponds and rivers dry up because of drought, this fish eater will scour for alternative food outside its niche, poaching around farms and homes. They are the emissary of El Niño.

Common kingfisher (Alcedines sp). Kingfishers are a group of small to medium-sized, brightly colored birds in the order Coraciiformes. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found outside of the Americas. (Wikipedia)

3. Bats swoop on unwary people at night.
Old folks warn us not to go out at dusk or at night - and never alone.
Bats, the only true flying mammals are perhaps the most misunderstood creatures because of their ugly looks and enigmatic life embellished with superstitious beliefs and associated with fiction such as the story of Dracula, a bloodthirsty count-vampire in the world of the undead. Movies, cartoons, and children’s stories have projected a bad image of bats, giving us the impression they are enemies of mankind.

Fruit bat closeup; morsels of guava from night feeding at the author's backyard in QC.  Photos by the author.

The truth is that bats are harmless, except for three known species called vampire bats that feed on the blood of animals. Seventy percent of the one thousand species of bats live on insects as their daily diet. One bat can devour 1000 mosquitoes in one hour. The bigger species eat on fruits (fruit bats). Insectivorous bats swoop down on flying insects in the dark which they detect by means of echolocation (natural radar) making it appear that they are attacking people when they get too close to them.

Bats are nature’s biological agents in controlling destructive insects. They pollinate plants that bloom only in the night, and they are very efficient in disseminating seeds of many plants. By carrying out these functions bats are crucial in maintaining the ecological balance of fragile ecosystems like the desert and chaparral. Their droppings accumulated for years in their cave dwellings make the best and safest organic fertilizer (guano). Let us protect the bats instead; they are indeed man’s valuable friends.

4. Someone dies if the
fire tree is in full bloom.
It sounds more of a premeditated action rather than prediction. In olden days there were tribes that go headhunting when the fire tree (Delonix regia) was in full bloom. In the Philippines the early Ilongots of the Cordillera Mountain used to descend to claim their victims from among the lowlanders. The sacrifice was part of a ritual to win a woman’s heart. How true is the story, we do not know. But among the Aztecs and Mayans, sacrificing human beings to their gods was a common practice before they were converted into Christianity.

One explanation of this belief is that the fire tree blooms to its fullest in the face of extreme drought, most likely due to El Niño, a condition that causes untold death and misery. It is the upland dwellers that are worse affected, forcing them to go to the lowlands in search for food or seek refuge, inevitably causing trouble.

5. Black butterfly that enters the house tells that a close relative is going to die.
There is no scientific explanation to this, except that butterflies are attracted by flower-like scents which perfumeries have been trying to copy. Check the brand of your perfume and call the company.

Beware though of certain perfumes, they attract bees.

6. “Flowers” on fingernails means a relative is going to die.
White maps on fingernails are a sign of malnutrition, mainly calcium. It means the skeletal system is also weak. Unless corrected, this condition may lead to poor physical condition, health problems – and death.

7. It’s lucky to find a four-leaf clover.
There are freaks in nature all around us. Some are common, others occur only in a million chances. It is the latter that people who find them feel they are favored by some kind of luck. 

But we also fancy on common ones like an elephant shaped papaya fruit, twin bunches of banana, ginseng root forked like beautiful legs, squash fruit with a face, and the like. These are deviations that appear suddenly and unexpectedly. Nature after all is not perfect. It also commits errors, and these errors may occur only temporarily in the organism concerned, or it is passed on to its offspring – which is the key to speciation, a progressive deviation of traits that ultimately leads to the making of a new species.

Try your luck again if you can’t find a real clover leaf representing the logo of the Boy Scout. Steal a leaf of makahiya, one that does not droop, and your wish – any wish – will be granted.

8. When a black cat crosses your way, don't proceed. Pause for sometime to break the spell. Or go back home and postpone your trip.
It's superstition. Proceed..

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