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The other day I rashly promised a post about Juno—or I will call her “Hera” since the Greeks invented her (?) and their name is more euphonic. Immediately though it became obvious that writing about the queen of the gods is not as simple as it seems.  Hera plays the villain in many myths—particularly those of Heracles (indeed, her name is his name: Heracles means “Hera’s man”).  She is a great and terrible antagonist–even more so than giant sentient animals, or super dragons, or the dark monstrous deities of the underworld.  But why is that? How can a regal woman be so much worse than the gods of charnel darkness and stygian torture?

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The Goddess Juno in the House of Dreams (Luis Lopez Piquer ca. early nineteenth century, oil on canvas)

Hera is the eldest daughter of Rhea and Cronus. She was devoured by her father at infancy, but escaped (via mustard emetic) and joined her brothers and sisters fighting against the titans for world domination.  Once the battle was won, she initially rebuffed the romantic overtures of her youngest and strongest brother, Zeus.  The king of the gods then took the form of a bedraggled cuckoo and cunningly played upon her sympathy for small injured creatures in order to win her heart and her hand.  After their marriage, however, Hera played the cuckoo in their relationship as Zeus dallied with goddesses, nymphs, and comely mortals of all sorts.  Classical mythology is pervaded by a sense that Zeus, king of the gods and lord of creation who fears nothing (except for being replaced by a strong son) is extremely afraid of Hera.  She is often portrayed as jealously lashing out at Zeus’ paramours and their offspring…or otherwise punishing those who act against her will or fail to pay her sufficient respect.

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Juno Discovering Jupiter with Io (Pieter Lastman, 1618, oil on canvas)

Hera’s animals are the lion, the cow, and the peacock (she put the hundred eyes of her dead servant Argus on the bird’s tail to give it even greater beauty).  Her emblems are the throne, the chariot, the scepter, and the crown.  She is sometimes portrayed wearing a strange cylindrical crown of archaic pre-Greek shape (which may indicate that she was a goddess of power borrowed from a pre-Greek society).

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Hera tends to be portrayed as a rich powerful woman of a higher class who barely deigns to notice her inferiors.  She is the goddess of women, marriage, wealth, success, and (above all) power.  Her children are Ares, Hephaestus, Eileithyia (the goddess of childbirth), cruel Eris, and beautiful Hebe, the goddess of youth who married Hercules after his apotheosis.

Have you read “The Three Musketeers”? After spending the entire book struggling against the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, the hero prevails and join forces with…Cardinal Richelieu. Power is like that, and so is Hera. She can’t effectively be fought against.  The world is hers.  She can only be appeased or beguiled… or served outright.

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The way upwards is not through deeds of merit, or valorous acts, or fighting monsters—it is through political wiles, networking, and figuring out how to please extremely rich powerful people who are impossible to please and implacably oppose regarding you as any sort of equal.

 

 

Ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita) by Frupus

Ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita) by Frupus

Ah glorious summer is here, a time for reflection and relaxation when a person can kick back and…think about really beautifully colored parasitoid wasps. This is the ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita) which lives in Western Europe and Great Britain. Although the wasp has a long stinger, it has no sting, so people who are afraid of bees and hornets can stop shuddering and enjoy the lovely iridescent blue-greens and purples of this jaunty little wasp. When the ruby-tailed Wasp is feeling alarmed, frightened, or just plain overwhelmed by modern life, it can curl into a protective ball. Although these wasps are very pretty, their behavior is less than beautiful–for they are a sort of cuckoo wasp. They find the nest of their hosts (ruby tailed wasps parasitize masonry bees) and lay their own eggs among the eggs of their victims. The different clutches of eggs hatch at the same time and the wasp larvae devour the bee larvae before morphing into adult insects. So, like nature itself, the ruby-tailed wasp is simultaneously beautiful and horrifying.

Now I sort of want to curl into a ball too...

Now I sort of want to curl into a ball too…

 

 

The Upside Daown Cafish, Synodontis nigriventris (from David Sands' African and Asian Catfishes)

Welcome to the world of topsy turvy!  When it is a few weeks old, the upside-down catfish (Synodontis nigriventris) turns on its back and spends most of the remainder of life swimming upside down.  Indigenous to the Congo basin, the friendly little catfish likes to spend its days clinging to the bottom of submerged logs and rocks.   Occasionally it swims along below the surface of the water to hunt for insects.  Evolution has already reversed the color scheme of the upside-down catfish:  unlike most aquatic animals, its belly is darker than its back.  This coloration provides the upside-down catfish with camouflage both from predators/prey looking up at a bright background and those looking down who see a dark background. Like the coral reef catfish, the upside down catfish is more comfortable with others of its kind as seen in the picture below.

Multiple young upside-down catfish are pictured hiding under a rock.

The upside down catfish is well known for being a friendly and playful inhabitant of the tropical community tank, however, like most of us, it has a sinister relative.  The cuckoo catfish (Synodontis multipunctatus) hails from Lake Tanganyika, an African rift lake filled with mouthbrooding African cichlids.  Such cichlids protect their eggs–and later their fry– inside their mouths until the baby cichlids are big enough to fend for themselves.

A mouthbrooding cichlid and its fry (photo by Drew R. Smith)

But the cuckoo catfish have found a way to sabotage the process for their own ends: the female cuckoo cat carefully watches breeding Haplochromis cichlids and zips in to lay her fertilized eggs at the same time the cichlid lays her own.  The unfortunate cichlid takes both types of eggs into her mouth. The cuckoo catfish eggs are first to hatch–whereupon the hatchling catfish eat the cichlid eggs.  Afterwards the young catfish enjoy protection from the aggressive cichlid parents until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

I guess it isn't just the financial sector which is filled with dangerous free-loaders.

Over 120 Synodontis species are known to science–which means this particular genus of catfishes accounts for nearly a quarter of the catfish species of Africa.  Many Synodontis catfish are colloquially known as “squeakers” due to their habit of making vibrating sounds by means of their pectoral fin spines when handled or disturbed.

And now here is an adult cuckoo catfish (Synodontis multipunctatus).

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