THE MAVERICK UNIVERSE

By William Markiewicz

Certain ants throw themselves on their burning nest and stop the fire with their own bodies; their collective life is more important than the individual. Salmon, after spawning, die collectively; it's like a ritual of life and death. The octopus dies after spawning; researchers have found a gland responsible for ending the life cycle. As an experiment they surgically removed this gland to see what would happen. Indeed the octopus didn't die and in time its behaviour became more and more erratic. Finally the octopus disappeared from the scientists' view. Nobody knows what happened. So the interference of prolonged life was not welcomed in this species. Certain wasps kill the drones at a precise period of the day and they do it by severing the abdomen from the upper part of the body. The lemmings apparently commit collective suicide by periodically throwing themselves into the ocean. Certain spiders, after laying the young, flatten their abdomen on them, offering their own body for food. So, life and death seem to be interlocked in the common ritual of some species; it's strange, as life is something opposite to death and seeking death is opposed to individual self preservation.

The mystery remains. It is not the only one in apparently infinitely capricious nature. The octopus, low on the evolutionary scale, possesses one of the most sophisticated eyes which other predators living in similar conditions don't have. Obviously they don't need it for existence.

Several behaviours show very sophisticated characteristics: Seduction behaviour and appearance, for us is equivalent with the notion of sensitivity to beauty. Remarkable care of the young, may be complex and sufficient but recognition stops just when the young distances himself a few inches from the nest. One large octopus gives birth to tiny offspring in the thousands and remains completely indifferent to the fish swimming around, devouring them. The same species may show remarkable intelligence in other situations; they can even be tamed. So we see how sophistication and primitivism remain closely interconnected and we don't know when and why the line is drawn.

Usually the physical characteristics are useful, serve for defence, camouflage, etc. There are others, like the Toucan, that apparently have no use for their enormous brightly coloured bill, coloured fish in the ocean, etc. We have no clue to explain all the variety. Some of the characteristics show remarkable adaptation in agreement with evolutionary requirements and yet others seem to respond to some artistic creativity. The universe seems to be the work of very diverse creators. We can wonder and enjoy more than we can understand and explain.

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