And now for something completely different

Because every news- and blog-site you look at today is going to have a blow-by-blow analysis of the causes and meanings of Joe Lieberman’s momentous and much-deserved loss in the CT primary — including discussion of his campaign’s last-minute 24-hour “they hacked our web site” smear (to account for a massive crash that was their own fault), their refusal to acknowledge that the Lamont campaign offered their own technical staff and even hosted the site for the day, and the details of Lieberman’s plan to carry out his threat of further dividing the Democrats by running as an independent in order to keep his place at Bush’s table — I’m not going to post about any of that.

Instead, I’m going to link to this very cool story about caterpillars. An enticing snippet:

Few reference-quality collections of specimens exist, because, unlike birds and beetles and butterflies, dead caterpillars do not keep well. Scientists have tried pickling them in alcohol, or hollowing them out and blowing them up like little balloons, but both techniques distort them badly.

And until recent advances in DNA science, the only way to identify a caterpillar positively was to rear it to adulthood, which requires careful husbandry. (There are well-known moths whose caterpillars have never been seen by science.) Most caterpillars shed their skins five or six times as they grow, and each stage, or instar, can have radically different markings and patterns from the previous one.

“In order to do this well, you sort of had to know the entire universe,” said Dr. Wagner, who said that 5 percent to 10 percent of the caterpillars in his book had never before been studied through their entire life cycles. The 700 species in the book are only a small fraction of the 5,000 east of the Mississippi.

It’s a very cool feature. Watch the video, too (it’s in the multimedia sidebar).

I snatched the photo above of the cecropia moth catepillar from Google Images because I remember them from my youth and think they’re bizarrely gorgeous. I think we also called them tomato worms, but that could be a crossed-wire in my addled memory. In any event, when I was growing up in Ohio, we saw them all the time — in the moth form, too. Seems like I don’t see them at all anymore. (My “little” brother – then around 7 – will never live down having adopted one as a playmate one afternoon – carrying it around on his bike, “feeding” it blades of grass, etc., and finally carrying its limp and deflated former-caterpillar-self to my mother, announcing, “I don’t want it any more, it’s too dead.”)

Here’s a link to Wagner’s book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America. (Entry updated to fix a format issue and make sure nobody was left thinking my now 38-year old brother kills caterpillars.) (Also, my brother protests, “I believe I was much younger than SEVEN.”)

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