Now, For Something Really Complex
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The other day I was wandering around the riparian area at Sabino Canyon when I noticed a grasshopper sitting on a twig. I thought it was pretty cool looking and so, I photographed it.
I subsequently identified the grasshopper as a Red-legged Grasshopper, a pretty mundane insect that shows up all over the United States. Farmers really hate this species because annually it is responsible for consuming huge quantities of crops.
But, mundane as this insect may be, the more I looked at its image the more enthusiastic I became about it. I realized that I, like almost everyone, never really look closely at these creatures. And, when I looked closely at this one, I realized that this insect is not only beautiful, but almost inconceivably complex in a truly bizarre way. Consider: this grasshopper lacks a nose and nostrils. Unlike vertebrates, it breathes through small holes in the sides of its abdomen. Its eyes consist of thousands of individual crystalline lenses, each forming a separate image of whatever it is that the grasshopper looks at. Its antennae are sensory organs that enable the insect to detect things that we may be totally unaware of. The insect’s brain is capable of coordinating six legs and four wings. The grasshopper’s huge hind legs are designed like folded springs, giving the grasshopper tremendous leaping ability.
And, consider especially the grasshopper’s mouth. It lacks teeth and a tongue but it is able to chew up plant fibers that are tougher than anything we’d attempt to eat.
Its mouth parts operate horizontally, not vertically, as do vertebrates’ mouths. And, look at those four little armlike appendages that are attached to the grasshopper’s face! They operate like hands, enabling the insect to manipulate plant matter as it puts it into its mouth.
Totally cool. But, also amazingly complex. We humans tend to assume that we are a “higher” form of life and that insects, including grasshoppers, are simple little creatures. I’m unconvinced. Grasshoppers and other insects aren’t simpler, they’re different. They have evolved down totally different pathways from vertebrates, including humans. But, evolution has proceeded for a long, long time with these insects, hundreds of millions of years in fact, and it has produced an organism that is, in its own way, every bit as advanced and complex as we are.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180mm f3.5 Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, ISO 125, “M” setting, f16 @ 1/160.