The personal blog of the cultural ambassador to the newly discovered planet of the Ant-people (the Myrmeiods).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Of Wasps and Pinwheels

What looked like a large wasp just flew into my house. They do have wasps here--a lot of our animals have their analogues here, creatures so similar to Earth-animals that you'd have to be an expert to say otherwise. For some reason, both insects and spiders show up on both planets--all the same orders, and most of the same families. So it could have been a wasp, except it was four inches long.

I've seen wasps almost that big on Earth, so my first reaction to this thing was fear. I'm not phobic about wasps, but really? A four-inch-long wasp? Then I smelled confusion--the scent Myrmeoids use to express confusion or startlement. Jim uses the same scent-system, as do most pseudoinsects, but the true insects don't. So this thing must not be a wasp--it must be some wild equivalent of the house-wasp. A reassuring thought, since none of the pseudoinsects sting.

But I still had it in my head that this thing was a wasp--like a non-stinging wasp, but I figured it would act like an insect and fly upward to the apex of my tipi-shaped house where it would buzz around until it died or I caught it. I was trying to figure out how to catch this things, since my house is way too tall for me to reach the ceiling. Maybe I could talk one of the La'heli flyers into going after it for me?

But then--it didn't fly upward. It landed on the wall, clinging to the paper, and looked around. I could see it waving its antenae the way Myrmeoids do when they're trying to get a better sense of their surroundings. Then it flew straight out the door.

A bird won't do that, never mind a bug! This animal sat there and looked around and thought about how to get itself out of the jam it was in. Of course, if it is a wild house-wasp, it is closely related to the Myrmeoids themselves. It's probably as smart as a monkey. I've been here eight months now, and I'm still making Earth-based assumptions.

Dan has just arrived--several minutes have passed between my writing this paragraph and the previous one. He confirmed my guess that the animal that flew into my house is a wild relative of the house wasp, but it's actually more closely related to the Myrmeoids--like an ape, rather than a monkey. It's funny how I never think the Myrmeoids actually are ants or wasps, the way I thought the monkey-wasp was a wasp, despite the similar shape--I guess it's because they're so much bigger. Ants can't be eight inches long. Hold on--Dan wants to write something. I've been teaching him to type in English.

helo earthpeopl how ar yu i am dan yu shulld pey yur ambasssador morr

Now he's giggling (emitting a scent I equate with giggling) about sending a message to the aliens. He actually can spell well in his own language, I should point out. I'm going to have to cut this message short, since I have company.

A few notes, first, since Dan has brought me news and a present. The news is a big deal, and concerns Dan himself; he thinks he is getting ready to molt. I should explain this. Myrmeoids have five life stages, not counting the egg; larva, pupa, and three post-pupal stages or instars. The larval and pupal stages are something like pregnancy is for us--they count their age in number of years from pupation, not number of years from hatching. Larvae don't even have central nervous systems. The first post-pupal instar is childhood, and lasts twelve years exactly. Dan is a second post-pupal, a young adult--except that this stage can last anywhere from twenty to forty years. There's no way to know when one is going to molt until the body actually begins to shift, a physical and hormonal process that begins six months before and continues six months after the molt itself. Dan thinks he has about three months to go--he says he's been feeling weird for a while now, and he's started getting clumsy because his body feels like it's a different shape than it really is.

There are a couple of implications here. The one I'm most concerned about is that molting is not a safe process--it gets safer each time, but still about half of one percent of people in Dan's position don't make it. And there's nothing to do about it; molting problems can't be predicted, and once they occur they can't be treated. But, there is no sense worrying about what can't be changed. Assuming Dan makes it, he'll be a mature adult, and his life will be very different. Myrmeoid families are partnerships among small groups of third-post-pupal instars, plus their children and their second-post-pupal employees. Technically, Dan is an employee of the La'heli's, and no one expects him to stay once he molts. He'll want to move on and form or join a family of his own, so he'll leave here before I will. He's already told the children he mentors, and now he's telling me.

The third issue is strange for me. As I think I mentioned, Dan is not really male; Myrmeoids don't have gender until they molt for the last time, and there is no way to know which they will be until the shift starts. He's 46 years old, and he is about to become either male or female for the first time. Not surprisingly, Dan does not find this strange at all; male and female don't matter much to them. What matters is caste; the third post-pupal instar is divided into two castes, flyer and layer. Flyers can be either male or female, and can reproduce sexually. Layers are females who lay eggs without mating. Flyers and layers differ mentally and physically, and so what Dan will do with the rest of his life depends on which caste he ends up being. Now that the shift has started, Dan will be able to get a blood test so he can start considering his options.

After all this...that Dan has thought to bring me a present when so much is suddenly up in the air for him is startlingly sweet. He has brought me an extra pinwheel, carrying it in his jaws as he walked the path to my house. I have a double row of red and silver-colored aluminum pinwheels lining the walk up from the main path to my house. It's a local custom I've adopted--to have pinwheels or sun-catchers about, along with wind-chimes. Myrmeoids can see color, after all, and they have an eye for beauty. I've added to the custom by planting a pair of flags; the flag of the United Nations, and the flag of the United States of America. I figured that's appropriate for an ambassador's residence. I had the flags custom-made, and they cost a fortune--I didn't think to bring any.

I am so obviously an alien here-I can't tell a bug from an ape! But it's a beautiful place. I can look out my door and there are my pinwheels and my flags and my wind-chimes, and beyond that the beautiful green of the fields and ground cover and trees, all singing with insects and amphibians--and here is my friend with me, who came to tell me his life is changing even before he told his employers, and who brought me an extra pinwheel to brighten my spirit.

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