The Gryllacrididae

Dr. Jeff Lockwood had seen these creatures over an extended period of time and begin to humanize them. In his experience, insects did not have a sense of self, but the Gryllacrididae were different. They seemed to differentiate their own nest from another based on the pheromones that they secreted and they were protective and defensive of themselves. He was drawn to them and believed that they were more like him than other insects that he had worked with. They were insects that he could relate to, until he couldn’t:

One day I had been working with this particular Gryllacridid, trying to move him from one cage to another, and he was agitated, and decided to go on the offensive which involved trying to come out of the cage. So he was scrambling up the side of the cage, and to keep him from getting out, [I] slammed the lid down (as he was just at the edge) and caught him between the lid and the edge of the cage. I quickly lifted the lid up and he fell back into the cage, and I looked down at him, and, I had ruptured his abdomen, a split right down his belly. Some of the viscera, a globule of yellow fat was leaking out, and oozing out of his body. I felt guilt, and then I felt sorry for an animal.

But, what really struck me was what he did next, which was curl his head downward (toward his abdomen), pause for a moment, and then began consuming his own innards…literally cannibalizing himself. It was horrifying. I sort of felt like I had come to know them, and then this. This was [beyond] imaginable.

But why would this happen?

So my sense, in my research is that what this Gryllacridid had done was to have detected the odor of its own fats. It sort of drew the conclusion that this must be something good to eat, without grasping that it was its own self. The smell of its own fat triggered a feeding behavior…[So clearly these things don’t quite have a sense of self] Maybe they are not just like me. [Don’t put the creature in your box, it doesn’t want to be there.] Its sort of a moral danger almost to not allow an organism to be what it is. It is almost to possess it, or to own it, and to really treat the insects with a deep respect is to, oddly enough, treat them objectively.

More to come tomorrow. To hear the story in greater detail, I strongly recommend taking 20 minutes to listen to this wonderful podcast.

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