Fantastic Feelers :
On my massive table, minuscule marching ants meet. Diminutive and delicate, they turn
into gigantic creatures under the magnifying glass with myriad hair-like growths over
their bodies. On their infinitesimal heads is a pair of headlight-like flashing appendages
or antennae. The ant’s seemingly trivial acts, I notice, are in fact a complex sequence of
events, highly influenced and reflected by these restless antennae.
The ants go about their hectic affairs greeting one another with a petite antennae-tapping
‘Hey pal, any news?’ or perhaps ‘Outta my way dude.’ The ants are communicating
checking out food, friends, and foes.
Insects! A six-legged antennae-flashing empire of outstanding opportunists, dominating
every imaginable niche. A glut of evolutionary gifts is responsible for the insect boom.
(Over a million insect species constitute over three-fourths of all animal life!) Small size.
power of flight, specialised reproduction and a range of physical endowments have given
the so-called lowly insects’ weird wisdom and ability quite out of proportion to their size
They sleep with their eyes open, wear a skeleton on the outside, their vision is sharp for
barely a foot or so and most inhabit a silent world except for detecting some vibrations.
The majority can eat only certain kinds of plants. Yet these six-legged insects rule the
roost and flash antennae come day or night.
Antennae! Such an integral part of our lifestyle today, the backbone of our survival,
our entire communications structure. Well, insects have had them for many millions of years. These antennae saw dinosaurs come and go, witnessed the birth of birds, reptiles, mammals and the Himalayas. Of course, you’ve seen these antennae on ants, beetles,
butterflies, cockroaches, flies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes and legions of others. A couple of slender attachments projecting from a tiny head.
These incredible feelers are extraordinarily sensitive to chemicals, to various environmental conditions, and lots more.
Forever flashing, turning, twisting, the array of antennae are perpetually in action, never failing the little creatures, not even when Mumbai got flooded. You could call them a manifold organ. A super-sensitive nose, tongue and ear rolled into one, informing the insect about the outside world, about taste, smell, sound, temperature and humidity.
The antennae toil 24 x 7. When ants, bees and butterflies reach a moist spot, the antennae
tell them if it is plain water or some sugary, mineral-rich solution. When near a food source, - mosquito’s antennae tells it, ‘Aha, this is the right choice.’ Honey bees depend mostly upon smell to find food. Their antennae are highly complex, containing thousands of minute pegs that function as odour-receptors.
Antennae-antics, in fact, go on in every Indian garden home, garage and office.
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