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Susanne Krejsa MacManus' five finger excercise

05/2020: If I had six legs

Last Sunday, I had a visitor. Such a handsome one!

He had red-ringed upper and lower legs, black knees and black feet, and six of them at that: two at the front, two in the middle, two at the back. Together, we enjoyed the sun; my male visitor – or was it a she? – explored the tablecloth (suitable for climbing), as well as the plastic clips that were supposed to hold it in place in the wind (less suitable for climbing). I watched in admiration at how gracefully he set down his legs. But, I couldn’t make out any rhythm and thought: How do you actually walk when you have six legs? How do you organise them so as not to trip over your own feet, which, of course, even happens to us two-legged creatures sometimes. The easiest thing would probably be to walk in lockstep – left, right, left, right. But that’s not what he did.

To solve this puzzle, I asked Wikipedia: “Six-legged constructions are an ideal foundation for statically stable walking robots. They are therefore suitable for movement on uneven terrain.” I can only confirm that. My Sunday guest was certainly no robot, but he mastered the uneven terrain of the tablecloth and the plastic clips with flying colours.

Wikipedia continues: “Six-legged creatures walk in the follow-the-leader pattern. One leg follows the other (in whatever order). There are two gaits (sequences of leg movements) that people distinguish between: with the tripod gait, there are always three legs on the ground at any one time. With the tetrapod gait, there are always four legs on the ground (4 standing legs, 2 legs in swing)”.

Unfortunately, I could no longer ask my visitor how he went about walking, because when, after a while, I looked up again from what I was reading, I saw he had taken off, in silence, without a word of goodbye. I felt a little slighted.

Red-ringed legs may indeed be very chic, but you get even prettier ones. Fellows of yours, for example, wear an outfit that is reminiscent of Tiffany’s work: the finest grid-like and mesh-like structures on their prothorax and forewings. Ok, I don’t wish to alarm my dear readers, but sooner or later I do have to come out with it: we’re talking now about bugs. Out of consideration for your sensitive nerves, I’ll just refer to them as ‘Bs’ from now on.

Around 40,000 species of this group of insects are known worldwide, of which, around 3,000 live in Europe. Most feed on plant saps and don’t do anything to us. Still, we don’t like them, which is a real shame. “They have themselves to blame – (the Bs that is)” is what Helga Stein from Cologne thinks, and she sends me the following poem on the matter:

Helga Stein is a retired heteropterologist – a “B.” researcher. Actually, she was pretty awful with insects. One day she bought herself a digital camera. And then what tends to happen in such cases happened: she simply took pictures of everything that came before her eyes. For example, insects that begat offspring in a horde right in front of her house door. And because people are proud of their photos, they like to share them. And so she found out that the erotic scene in front of her house had nothing to do with beetles, but rather with Bs. She was invited to an entomological working group that regularly took place on the premises of Cologne University. “I went and was enthralled.” Since then, she has photographed countless Bs, put them online, given lectures, provided researchers with pictures, given interviews, and, above all, herself taken joy in her spectacular shots.

The biologist and filmmaker Frank Nischk also acquired a taste for beholding and looking on: he immersed himself in the ‘fabulous world of nasty animals’: and what did he encounter there? Attentive cockroaches, diving dragonflies and boxing crabs. “Cockroaches, ants, wasps, jellyfish and worms – it is often the unimpressive and supposedly disgusting little animals, the ones that sting, that particularly surprise us with their fascinating stories.” For him, too, it was love at second sight: “It is easy to love ponies and pandas – cuteness, soft fur, big round eyes – that’s how a love of animals usually works.” But he didn’t want to be a ‘petting-zoo biologist’. All creatures are valuable and fascinating. He likes to quote Goethe’s Faust in this regard: “The Lord of rats and mice / of flies, frogs, bugs and lice...”; (Take a look inside the book here.)

Now, I still have to tell you who my Sunday visitor was: Rhynocoris annulatus is what the Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné named him in 1758. I can live with that. On the other hand, I didn’t think it was fair for my peaceful visitor that his/her German name was ‘Geringelte Mordwanze’ – “The ringed assassin bug”. Who wants to sit at a table with an assassin bug?

My previous ‘five finger exercises’ and newsletters can be read here. I’d be delighted if they were shared!

I post my five finger exercises every so often, whenever I have something to relate.
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