The Airborne Bestiary


| 5/25/2016 2:09:00 PM


Tags: atmoshpere, wildlife, animals, nature, Jerry Dennis, Michigan,

Aeolian Sampler

Art by Glenn Wolff from It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes

Pity my neighbor. He’s a foot-soldier in the war against weeds, a Saturday-morning guardian of bluegrass and a Monday-night warrior armed with Weed-be-Gone. He patrols his yard, head bent, weed-digger in hand, ready to pounce on any intruders. "Look!" he shouts, holding up the uprooted foe. There’s accusation in his voice. He blames me for his troubles because I happen to enjoy dandelions and do nothing to discourage them. They’re scattered across my lawn like constellations in a night sky. My kids like to pick them between their toes and rub yellow on their cheeks and say it’s butter.

I wander over to watch him engage the enemy, and notice, drifting with the breeze, the delicate parachute of a dandelion seed. My neighbor stands abruptly, roots dangling from his hands, and unwittingly intercepts the drifting seed. It lands on his head, perky as a daisy, then catches a breath of air and floats past his shoulder and settles among the grass on that rich and pampered soil. It will have no trouble competing down there.

The wind is a tremendous distributor of life, and plants and animals have evolved many mechanisms for taking advantage of it. Dandelion seeds, with their umbrellas of down, can ride a breeze for hours. The tiny plumed seeds of bulrushes and cattails have traveled hundreds of miles over open ocean and colonized remote islands. In summer above the temperate regions just about any cubic mile of sky contains millions of assorted seeds, insects, spiders, and other organisms. Suspended or drifting in the air much the way plankton drifts through the ocean, they fill the sky to an amazing height and can travel vast distances on the wind.

Life Will Find a Way

On the ice fields of Mount Everest, at a height of twenty-two thousand feet, lives a species of jumping spider that is probably the highest permanent inhabitant of the earth. Biologists early in the 20th century were baffled by the spider, because the harsh environment where it lived seemed to offer nothing for it to prey upon. But the spider only needed to wait for its meals to be delivered. Every day, countless flies, aphids, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, gnats, midges, and mites were swept by updrafts to the top of the mountain and deposited on the ice and snow.




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