Category Archives: Invertebrates

With Legs Outstretched

I don’t remember where I read it, but I do remember reading that most ticks die without reproducing. They don’t really move very far, just pick a spot on the top of grass and wait with a pair of outstretched legs, hoping that they can grab onto a passerby. (Although it might be a bit much to ascribe an emotion such as hope to a tick, it is semantically much simpler than a scientifically-accurate explanation.)

This behavior, reaching into the air with their legs, is called questing. The ticks can’t jump or fall from their perch, all they can do is hang on if a suitable host makes contact.

While hiking recently, I bent to tie my shoelaces and caught a brown lump on some grasses right in the middle of the trail. I saw a large tick, two legs held aloft – evoking a superhero pose, presumably waiting for an unwitting host to brush against its patient legs. I poked a little at the tick with a twig, to see how it responded. The legs reached forward to grasp it, and I flipped the tick-occupied side of the twig onto a rock off the trail. I uneasily continued on the trail.


Blurry brown lump, a tick, is towards 11 o’clock on clump of grass. (Best a phone could do.)

I have been casting about recently, prodded on by a restless feeling, making lists of my values and goals and what would comprise a life well-lived. I keep writing and thinking and going about my daily routine and waiting for change to happen to me, for an opportunity to pop up, for a crystallized vision to strike me as I doze off.

Meanwhile, years have passed.

This semi-lazy opportunism has worked for me in the past – a college brochure directing me to the midwest, an instantaneous decision over breakfast conversation that I wanted to go to grad school, working various internships that others recommended, doing a U-Turn into teaching, etc. But the magic sauce seems to have run out.

Clearly stepping past the caution tape surrounding the academic sin of anthropomorphism, I identified strongly and reluctantly with the tick. That moment with the tick made me clearly aware that I am questing in my current life, hoping that something will happen to me and move me towards my purpose, hoping that a lumbering opportunity will pass by and let me grab on with my outstretched legs.

Sit Still


Ladybug. Photo by author, 2016.

Sit still, and a groundhog might run along the path where you are sitting.

Watch closely, and the brilliant red of a ladybug might appear.

Tread lightly, and a fly mimicking a wasp might alight on some flowers.

What unique sights have you seen by paying close attention?


Fly mimc, waiting on an identification. Photo by author 2016.

Review of Octopus! The most mysterious creature in the sea (by Katherine Harmon Courage)

“Head-turning intelligence is turning out to be far less rare in the animal world than we once presumed (which makes us the dummies for assuming we were the only ones with any wherewithal at all.” (Courage, 119)

I recently read Octopus! by Katherine Harmon Courage. Already one of my favorite animals for their intelligence and camouflage abilities, I loved delving into the lives of these cephalopods. I could have done without the chapters on eating octopus, as they are off my list of edibles due to their intelligence and charisma, but with over 250,000 tons caught annually, I understand why she included information about the importance of the octopus catch and octopus cuisine. (Especially as we exhaust fisheries and begin eating our way down the marine food web, with species depleted quickly in many regions.)

But the book really gets going after that portion. I could nerd out about all of the octopus facts, and the remarkable diversity of octopuses (e.g., blanket octopuses, venomous blue-ringed octopuses, or the Giant Pacific Octopus) but I want to provide a brief overview of their camouflage tricks and encourage you to read the book.

Octopuses are considered to be the smartest invertebrate. Oddly enough for solitary animals, they learn well through observation, while also engaging in complex behaviors that were not taught (like tool use). They are able to change color, texture, and reflectivity in well under a second to blend in with their background. How do they change so fast? According to Courage, “Teams of researchers and millions of dollars have not yet been able to fully understand or even begin to replicate it” (83). We don’t know how they deal with all of the environmental stimuli, as light scatters everywhere underwater and the ocean bottom is a festival of textures and colors. To hide in plain sight, they use chromatophores to change color, iridophores to change reflectivity and hue, leucophores to adjust white coloring, and muscles to create texture. It’s still not clear how they ‘know’ what to shift to. Scientists think that they may be processing the input locally and instantly, without involving their central nervous system. Not bad for a creature that Aristotle deemed stupid.

More Resources:

Octopus Adorabilis

Octopus Movement


Ten Curious Facts

An ode to an octopus

Mimicry delight

Turning in fright

A splash of ink

Makes you think

Why can’t I obscure

And slink into nooks

Hidden and demure

And outwait the danger

Without looking stranger

Than the ocean floor

Just another background, nothing more

The whole thing is worth watching, but after minute 4:15 is absolutely stunning.

Other Resources:

Happy Exploring!