Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Benefits of Thinking Small

I considered using this title as a lead-in to a rant about the over-emphasis placed on the supposed “Big Picture” in science these days, where researchers are forced not just to set their work in an appropriate framework but make extravagant claims about the over-arching, world-changing importance of every study and result, thus making liars of us all—but I decided to talk about the zoo instead.

Usually, when I visit the Amazonia exhibit, I’m looking up—checking the trees for birds and monkeys, peering up at far-away blossoms (and cocoa pods), and trying in vain to find the elusive sloth (as far as I know, it’s only ever been sighted by the people who work there).

But the last time I went, it occurred to me that I was falling into the typical vertebrate-centric pitfall, focusing all my energy on the big, the flashy, the creatures who flit through trees. But this was Amazonia—a place full of layers of life, and surely I would also find organisms of interest that were smaller and closer to the ground. So I started paying more attention to what was at and below my eye level—and although I didn’t find any land snails (as I’d been rather fervently hoping I would), I did see more than enough to interest me.

Early on, I had spotted the belligerent resident spoonbills high up in the trees, but it took me a little while longer to spy one of their feathers on a bed of leaves:

And though I didn’t see snails, by looking for the first time along the cracks in the cement-molded-like-rock ledges, I did discover this cute little millipede:

I admit that I wasn’t as thorough about lifting up and looking under fallen/rotten leaves as I might have been, since my fondness for invertebrates has its limits, and I was afraid I might come across a cockroach and be scarred for life. But my new perspective did help me notice flowers and plants that had been literally beneath my notice before. It was nice to be reminded that there’s always more to an environment than first meets the eye.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Anca said...

That last photo shows nature making better jewels than humans can, and your point is well taken.

Kathleen Cunningham said...

So many lovely images. Thanks.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...