Saturday, March 03, 2007

“shaped like an ancient harpoon”

So I am cycling through the usual list of sites, stop on Dennis Copper's blog and see that Vomitingghosts presents ... Quotation Day. I scan down the quotes until I come to this, under Poetry:

From the Thursday, February 1, 2007 episode of The Colbert Report:

“People are often surprised to find I have a sensitive side. And I’m not just talking about my back covered in bedsores. I loves me sleep. And as a sensitive man, it was time I told you about the most poetic fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

[Cue strings, harps, sprinkly-sparkly sounds; image of a couple silhouetted against a sunset on a beach, an alpine mountaintop, a sunflower and sunflower buds, reeds shifting in the breeze on a coast before an ocean sunset; text in hyper-curly cursive font: “The Most Poetic F@#king Thing I’ve Ever Heard”]

It’s hamisaratoides heiroglyphica, a newly discovered moth that, quote, ‘alights on the neck of a sleeping magpie and drinks the bird’s tears.’

I’ve never heard of anything more deserving of rhyme. It’s right up there with the greatest works of Byron, Shelley, and that extraordinary young man from Nantucket.

Sorry, Raven, now you’re only second on my list of all-time most poetic birds.

[Cut to chart]

All-Time Most Poetic Birds
1. Magpie
2. Raven
3. Mourning Dove
4. Nightingale
5. Turquoise-Browed Motmot

[Cut back to Colbert]

Turquoise-browed motmot, ball’s in your court.

Because I’ve heard of unicorns galloping to the moon on rainbow-covered bridges paved with baby’s dreams.

But moths that drink the tears of sleeping magpies? That’s the most poetic fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

[Repeat segment-title montage]

And that’s our show, ladies and gentlemen. Good night.”

Very funny and, I assume, fabricated. Still, I am intrigued and do a quick google which turns up this beautiful article from the New Scientist:

A species of moth drinks tears from the eyes of sleeping birds using a fearsome proboscis shaped like a harpoon, scientists have revealed. The new discovery – spied in Madagascar – is the first time moths have been seen feeding on the tears of birds.

Roland Hilgartner at the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, and Mamisolo Raoilison Hilgartner at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, witnessed the apparently unique sight in the island state’s Kirindy forest.

Tear-feeding moths and butterflies are known to exist elsewhere in Africa, Asia and South America, but they mainly feed on large, placid animals, such as deer, antelope or crocodiles, which cannot readily brush them away. But there are no such large animals on Madagascar. The main mammals – lemurs and mongoose – have paws capable of shooing the moths. Birds can fly away.

But not when they are sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of their proboscises inserted under the bird’s eyelid, drinking avidly. This was during the wet season, so the scientists think the insects wanted salt, as the local soils are low in sodium.

But sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the Madagascan moth has a proboscis with hooks and barbs “shaped like an ancient harpoon”, Hilgartner says.

This can be inserted under the bird’s eyelids, where the barbs anchor it, apparently without disturbing the bird. The team does not yet know whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition from the tears.

Journal reference: Biology Letters (DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0581)
The moth uses its barbed proboscis to penetrate
the eyelid of sleeping birds and drink tears
(Image: Roland Hilgartner / Mamisolo Raoilison)

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