It's been quite a while since I've written here, so unless you've spoken to me in the last few weeks, you wouldn't know about my katydid. I sadly don't have a great picture of her, but here's the only one that had any clarity:
Yeah, the only good shot I get, and it's of her rump.
For Invertibrate Zoology, one of our requirements was to catch and take care of some kind of invertebrate and do a report on them. For being so interested in biology, I'm fundamentally squeamish about touching living organisms, especially invertebrates (or vertebrates that potentially bite). It's not much of an issue with cats, dogs, or other domesticated animals. It's the wild ones. Maybe it's a touch of respect for their wildness, maybe it's partly an ingrained fear of injury, or maybe I'm just constantly terrified that touching them will cause them harm, like with butterflies. It's probably a combination of the three. Whatever the cause, the squeamishness makes me hesitate when trying to grab something, making attempts at catching much of anything a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, my roommate and my girlfriend were both happy to help.
My roommate and I caught a grasshopper and a pine beetle while we were in the mountains, helping his family. I say "we" caught them, but really it was almost entirely his doing. I wandered around, feeling oafish as everything with legs and wings hopped, ran, or flew away from me. Still, we had them, and I started doing research, hoping to get the project over with as quickly as possible. Both died in short order. Thankfully, less than a week later my girlfriend and I stumbled upon this beautiful creature. Since the picture of my actual caught organism is pretty weak, I include a stock footage of the species, hoping you'll understand if I argue that she looked "just like this."
Microcentrum rhombificum, or Greater Anglewing Katydids, are the only kind of katydid typically found in Denver proper, so it was fairly easy to identify her. I'm slow to catch bugs, and generally squeamish about handling them, so I'll admit that it was my girlfriend who was daring and clever enough to catch her. She held the katydid in her hands all the way back to the car, a fair distance since we were out for a walk. She commented with amusement how the insect was tickling her hands as she walked. We eventually put her in an empty qdoba bag for the ride home, and my roommate helped us transfer her from the bag to my cage.
For the next week I studied her, becoming comfortable with her general features and habits, all the while keeping her in her cage. I delighted when she grew eggs, and fretted over her, misting her cage frequently and adding new and various vegetation for her consumption. The project date came and my presentation was an astounding success. Still, over all this time I never once touched or handled her. I watched her with keen interest and adoration, but not once even tried to make contact. The cage was a barrier to both of us, and I preferred to keep it that way.
Tonight I decided to let her go. It was time, really. M. rhombificum adults typically only last until the end of October, so she wasn't likely going to live much longer anyways. I walked out to my back porch, opened the cage, and set it down on the ground, away from me and towards the wilderness that is our backyard. She didn't move. I picked up the cage and studied her intently. She continued to sit there, calmly grooming her legs, seemingly uninterested in the notion of freedom. I set it down again and waited.
I picked up the cage again and stared in at her. She stared right back at me. Building up some nerve, I reached in and gently poked her wings, hoping the contact with a big, scary predator might cause her to consider making a break for it. Of course, my own training should have told me that katydids, aka "leaf bugs", freeze when they suspect they're in trouble, what with their masterful ability to blend in with their environment. Surprise, surprise, she froze.
Maybe a little shake of the cage might knock her out, I reasoned. I was afraid to knock out the eggs she'd laid, so I gently yet firmly shook the cage, letting bits and pieces of weed, leaf, and romaine lettuce hearts shake out onto the backyard patio. No katydid. I tried again. Still no katydid. A third time and still no katydid, but finally I noticed that she had started crawling to the top of the cage. I set it down again, hoping she'd crawl out, and she did. I knew then that it wouldn't be long before she'd fly away, and I knew I had to seize the moment. For all my squeamishness, if I didn't handle her at least a little bit before she was gone, I knew I'd regret it.
So I held out my finger to her and she climbed on. I didn't grab her, didn't touch her in any way. I let her touch me. She stood on my finger, so content that when I put my finger next to a very tall weed she made no move to depart. She sat there for a few minutes and I had my first opportunity to really examine her. Without the mesh of the cage between us, she was a beautiful marvel of life. I had come to appreciate her in an academic sense, but what I felt, sitting there in the middle of the night in my boxers and a t-shirt, was far greater than simple academia. It was raw appreciation for the brilliance of the organism that sat on my finger. You can never have that same sensation in microbiology (no matter how awesome microbes are).
Moments later she flew away, vanishing into the night. I went downstairs, sat down on my computer, and wrote this article.
I suppose there's a metaphor in there somewhere.