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Friday, April 15, 2005

Our Animal Friends

Recently, while driving along a New York State parkway at night, I passed a group of perhaps a dozen deer grazing the grassy verge, all of them 15 feet or less from the rightmost lane. I was struck by how unperturbed they were about the large beasts with brightly glowing eyes speeding by at 60 miles per hour. While obviously not every deer copes successfully with life near automobiles, most of them do -- otherwise, we would never encounter such a large herd that must routinely feed so close to a busy road.

In my former neighborhood in London, I regularly saw foxes. While I lived towards the outskirts of the city, I have a friend who lives near Tower Bridge -- fairly central -- who told me that he would see foxes there as well. A few years ago, I read in one of the New York papers about a coyote found dead alongside a highway in the Bronx. The ability of the critters who share our world to adapt themselves to the novel environments we create is pretty impressive.

But that reminds me of what seems to be a maladaptation. Anyone who has lived in a wooded area has probably come home on a summer night to find a host of insects -- moths typically being the most numerous of the bunch -- hanging around his porch light. I've occasionally asked myself, "What the heck are they up to?" I mean, before there were electric lights, didn't all of these bugs have something important they were supposed to be doing, like eating or mating? On my porch, they always appeared to be so mesmerized by the glowing orb near them that they were rendered incapable of anything more than staring at it with slack jaws. Are they "bug junkies," slowly wasting away while getting their nightly fix of artificial illumination?

I once posed this puzzle to my father. He said, "I don't know why they do that, but I do know that Alexander Graham Bell was very disappointed."

That threw me a bit, so I asked, "Why's that?"

"Well," he replied, "Bell was hoping that insects would congregate around the telephone."

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