Of Giant insects and playing scientist

May 20, 2009

Scientists studying Giant Weta, one of the largest insects in the world, stumbled upon an unusual problem. These giant cousins of grasshoppers can weigh more than a house sparrow and are endemic to New Zealand. Their populations are mostly confined to offshore islands as they have almost been completely exterminated from the mainland by introduced mammals. As part of a recent species release, research staff at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington, had fitted 10 giant Weta with radio transmitter units to monitor their survival and movements after release. One tagged female Weta could not be located and researchers followed the transmitter signal only to find it emanating from the middle of stream. As the signal moved closer to shore, the culprit revealed itself to be an eel. The slimy critter had just swallowed an endangered Weta and $ 350 transmitter for breakfast!

The point I am making is that we conservation biologists often lose perspective when we study species to oblivion. I mean, what a would a Pygmy Shrew think if it knew we were analysing its droppings, writing papers, getting doctorates and making distinguished academic careers out of it. Not very highly of us I am guessing. That darn eel that ate the Giant Weta teaches us not to poke and prod the natural world in the hope of making it into a prestigious journal, garnering a coveted fellowship or figuring in the special interest section of the papers. Even if our cherished hypotheses are shattered to pieces in the process of scientific investigation, we still want to walk away having had fun anyway. And let’s not get too carried away by the science bit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: