Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sole Survivor

I was splitting my remaining firewood, anticipating the predicted snow storm, when I got the urge to check on my local family of Oak Treehoppers.  The two branches they'd occupied since September 8 were bare of leaves, and there was just one treehopper remaining.  It looked the like original mother of the brood.  Rather than let her perish in the snow storm, I carried her into the house for a photo session on my hand.  For a while she was too cold to move.  As she got warmer, she wiggled around and righted herself, spread her wings, and got ready to take off.  Then, true to her name, she hopped! Around two feet straight up, too fast for my camera hand, then took flight horizontally.  My imagination went wild.  I remembered seeing an Air Force VTOL craft take off just outside Oklahoma City one summer.  I wondered how much fuel was consumed as an ordinary looking airplane rotated its engine-bearing wings 90 degrees to power the plane straight up.  Then the wings slowly rotated into position for horizontal flight.  It seemed like it must have been an incredibly wasteful operation, although obviously helpful if there were no runway available.  In the case of the treehopper, I wondered how many molecules of ATP were involved in that jump, at least 100 times the insect's height.  How many such jumps could it perform before recharging its mitochondria.  The bugs seemed to sit still most of the time throughout the two months that I watched them.  Didn't seem to eat much.  I didn't get a chance to see how many times I could make her jump.  My cat got her the second she landed on the floor.  Probably a better fate than dying slowly in a snow storm.  Thus ends my Oak Treehopper Saga for 2011.  I hope to learn more about them from direct observation next year.

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