I'm useless at estimating the amount of pasta to cook. I need to weigh it. But when I tipped the spaghetti onto the scales last night out came spaghetti powder and a few teeny beetles. Not very nice, and easily dealt with, but raising lots of questions.
First off; where do the beetles come from? I can quite understand coriander seed from the sub-continent being a mass of frass and webby stuff after a month or two. The eggs were surely on the seeds from the word go, one reason why I keep those kinds of spices in the freezer. (And incidentally, whatever happened to food irradiation?) But surely there were no eggs on the spaghetti. I admit that the packet may have been open for a month or so. But I haven't seen any beetles in any other farinaceous products on the shelf. And, as I said, the spices have been in the freezer forever. So, where did the beetles come from?
Then there is the question of how beetles that small, and we're talking pinhead sized, function. A failure of imagination, I'm sure, but I just don't see how animals as teeny as that work. How do their moving parts move? Are their cells the same size as mine (or a big beetle's)? Profound ignorance, especially for a card-carrying biologist. And given how small they are, the first question becomes more urgent still. I think it was my first glimpse of a pycnogonid, with its impossibly thin legs and tiny body, within which, it was obvious to me, no nerves or muscles could possibly fit, that originally raised this question in my mind. And I'm no nearer an answer.
And then this morning, by a strange coincidence, a seminar at work dealt at length with the case of the Large Grain Borer. And I thought I had trouble. This little beasty (alas, we weren't shown a picture of one) can wreck a fine crib of corn in a matter of weeks. Apparently it hitched a ride to Africa on some maize from Mexico. I cannot begin to imagine what a farmer in Benin feels when he pulls an ear out of the stack, peels back the husk, and discovers that the grain has turned to dust.
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