Saturday, 23 December 2017

From Insects to Crows: Dogless and Searching for Companionship

One thing I’m truly yearning for these days is a loving furry companion. I think I’m ready now that four years had gone since the passing of Caramella. However, because I haven’t yet ‘settled’ anywhere, it wouldn’t be fair to get a dog. As such, you find me looking for connection in all sorts of weird places.

It started with ants a few years ago when I briefly resided at my aunt’s pace in Los Angeles. This ended with writing three well-researched pieces about some of the odd behaviours of these magnificent creatures: Why Ants Carry Their Dead and Other Fascinating Facts and Ants Carry Other Live Ones As Means of Transportation

When I later shared a lovely Venice Beach bungalow I was blessed by a couple of temporary mates who had their dogs that I used to take for almost daily walks: Blackjack shown in the featured collage and Lady the Shiba Inu. In Cairo, when I go back for visits there is my sister’s cat, also shown up there. In addition to three of my cousins’ dogs who throughout the years became walking companions. 

The following encounters with other life forms were back in L.A with bees and other insects, which I happened to save from drowning in the pool. 

I even befriended one for a good 15 minutes.

After that, it was the fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) who love sipping on me wine and getting drunk. They truly go berserk around it. They are also into fermented fruits, like ripe bananas, but the attraction seems different in nature. Since this happens indoors, I got more time to study and film the little buggers. I even gave them names in an effort to identify them. Laurel and Hardy pictured in the below photo were two. 

A repeated happening with fruit flies is that they would get into the glass of rosé wine, keep sipping over a period of time until they’re tipsy and unable to escape. This is when I usually take notice — when my time comes to sip. If they are still outside the wine itself I tilt the glass with an angle, making it easier for them to fly out, which usually works. But sometimes they’re too plastered, so I use my finger to gently escort them. Yep.

Buzzed Laurel and Hardy waiting atop a covered glass of rosé wine: The Elixir of Life

Other times, the drunkards are already swimming in. Like many, back in the days I would throw the drink. Now, never. I get a spoon and gently pick them up, then place them on a solid surface, giving them time and space to come back to life. I did this many times and filmed it twice. It does feel good to watch them fly again. Though if the glass is left for too long they just drown.

After a while I learned to cover the glass with a tissue. Even though if left long enough, they would sneak from the tiny gaps underneath and find a way in, but never out. Like a concerned parent, I began using something more solid like a paper or coaster. But then I would feel sorry for them, remembering how I personally enjoy drinking wine. Wine-not share? 

I would remind myself of the same when having them around ‘bugs’ me, that with a single hand gesture I could easily end their lives. But do I have to? “Understand that this is what a two-month life is for these harmless tiny ones,” I’d ponder before going back to the peaceful, non-bloody method.   

Eventually, by the end of this coexisting I wanted to think that the survivors fruit flies may be aware that I helped and save them from a certain death; that they have sentience. The others with whom I shared drinks, maybe they know that I’m the one who offers them their food source, which they love to death — pun intended. 

As a result of these interactions I was also inspired to write Animals Getting High: Weird Nature ― Peculiar Potions

The little one who befriended me after saving it from drowning in the pool

As usual, the more you dig, the more things get unusually interesting. Further observation revealed that fruit flies possess sophisticated senses; how they smell through antennae rather than noses, which help them detect odours in the air; also how they use visual and olfactory cues to navigate and locate food sources.

It turned out that fruit flies are useful organisms for studying the neural mechanisms of their navigation behaviours. A reason why from UCLA to the University of Washington, there is a significant amount of studies involving them, their poppy-seed brains, and how efficiently they use their mere 200,000 neurons — as opposed to 300,000 for house flies and billions for humans.

For the curious, more readings can be found on this “fruit flies” link on Popular Science with a selection of different articles. 

The last insect species to try to interact with is a tiny little spider in the bathroom, which I named Spy. I didn’t relocate it outdoors as I normally do with most insects found inside. You know, it’s cold these days, so I let it hang in. It’s quiet, keeps to itself, and always in that same upper corner. I even greet it with a high-pitched “Hey Buddy!” every time I go to the bathroom. 

Compared to fruit flies, spiders live much longer — up to two-three years, with most dying after one year.

Ultimately, after months of interactions and research I wrote a story including some of these insects, which one day could become an animated film with a witty existential twist.  

All that said, insects are a different order of life as we know it. Their relatively small sizes make their world almost invisible to us … until we come into contact. These ‘relationships’ I am recounting herein are certainly cool and they teach one a whole lot. Personally, they polish my observation skills while reminding me of what pure awareness is.

But, unless perhaps we’re talking about preying mantis or jumping spiders as pets, the rest of the insects are missing some reciprocation or mutual connection when dealing with us humans. Let alone the fact that they are short-lived — the encounters themselves as well as the lifespan of insects in general. More is needed.

Whether Spy is a Spiderman or a Spiderwoman, it doesn’t matter. At least we’re under the same roof.

Crows were all over the Gezira Club where I used to play as a kid in Cairo. They seemed like wily, opportunistic birds who would steal unattended hotdogs and burgers right out of the bun. They had another role in my childhood, which is through the poem Le Corbeau et le Renard (The Fox and the Crow) of Jean de La Fontaine, originally one of Aesop’s fables. La Cigale et la Fourmi was another which had equally invaded my growing imagination.

We know from legends, literature, mythology, and folklore that crows/ravens get a vile rap among birds. Often associated with bad omens, witches, and death, in various cultures and religions they are a symbol of bad luck and the mortal world.

But for younger me, crows
were never regarded as aggressive or unfriendly, or even ominous. Instead, they aroused my curiosity as I somehow found something mystical and msyterious about them. Whats more is that I sort of sympathised with them because le corbow lost his piece of cheese to the wily renard. So he was the one who learned through loss and experience. 
Later on in life, I came to know
how these fascinating birds are remarkably intelligent and adaptable creatures — solving elaborate puzzles and problems — and how they can befriend humans. At the top of the intelligence list, the entire corvid family of crows, ravens, and jays (genus Corvus) along with parrots are considered the ultimate brainiac birds. The genus also includes rooks, jackdaws, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers. 

Another notable poem which more mature me was introduced to is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven

My own human family once had a pet African Grey parrot, Chico, for 18 years — the last six he moved to my place. So I can more or less say I know how it is with birds. They are no dogs or cats, which they could sometimes outsmart, but they are no insects either. A reason why many people have them as pets.

More recently, I heard of an 8-year-old Seattle girl who would regularly feed crows in her garden, so as thank yous in return they kept getting her all sorts of small shiny gifts. From beads, buttons, paper clips to ChapSticks, coloured pieces of seaglass, with the favourite of the trinkets being a little heart pendant. How cute is that. Seriously.

Apparently, however, the girls parents are now facing a lawsuit because the neighbourhood does not seem as amused as everyone who read the viral Story or watched the Video from all over the world.

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”

As mentioned with insects, the more you follow your curiosity by wondering and inquiring, the more things get interesting. The following are some compelling facts about crows:
  • Crows recognise individual faces. So they recall those who was kind and who have wronged them; accordingly they can hold grudges. 
  • They inherit the land habitat from their parents, sometimes going back to hundreds of years in one location.
  • They can mimic the human voice just like some other birds.
  • A group of crows is called a murder — which does not help much their alleged notorious reputation. Today some scientists argue that it is time to find another term because a murder of crows keeps feeding the public’s negative outlook on the animals. I do agree with that.

  • They adapted to our modern life so well, they have been widely seen to drop uncracked nuts on busy streets from the air, so that passing cars do the job. Naturally, this shows they grasped the concept of traffic light. Red fly; Green OK. 
  • Crows have regional dialect, which they can deliberately change.

  • Crows are different than ravens. The cousins may look quite similar, but there are differences between the two birds. Discussed herein, we have the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and the common raven (Corvus corax). Ravens are larger in size and are more solitary, usually seen in ones and pairs. As for crows, they are normally found in larger groups. In addition, the shape of their tails as well as the sound of their calls are slightly different. the latter distinctions may remain hard to tell apart by the average person.

More can be found in the 2005 book by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell: In the Company of Crows and Ravens.

Sweet Chico
With all that in mind, when this dogless dude saw a few crows hanging around close to his place he thought that maybe he should try to befriend them. According to the many sources on Google, they eat a whole lot of different things. From frogs, lizards, insects, to mealworms, crickets and mice, or “anything else they can catch and swallow”. They also like fresh fruits. 

Then fruits it was, since I don’t carry around any of the other items on the menu. The first time I had some peaches, like half one. I stepped outside and walked towards the side street where I usually spot the crows and just stood there watching. A couple of minutes through, one appeared above by the tree.

Now here was I wearing nothing but a swim suit while spreading my arm ahead with the peach in hand, trying to get the wild bird attention with all sorts of weird noises. I whistled first; then tried waving my hand like a street crazy listening to some music only him can hear. I wondered what would onlookers think, but I honestly didn’t care much as I was fixated on the experience.

After maybe 10 minutes I left the peach on the ground and went back inside. Two hours later it was still there. Another two hours and still there, so I picked it up and threw it in the garbage. 

Weeks had passed and I am still dogless and still yearning for connection. Hm. It’s winter as it is also the holiday season, all the fruit flies drinking buddies who kept me company have died. O’ The sorrow. Then, there is Spy the spider just minding his or her own business in that corner. Yet there is no dog or even a kitty cat around to share its love with me. Maybe the smart, social crows would.

I got out once more with the intention to feed some birds, or just one, this time with grapes. I looked around up and down and all around, but couldn’t see any for 10-15 minutes. So back in again.

After more digging, I learned that sunflower seeds is something crows eat. I had some, so on another day I went out with the full plastic box and stood there under the trees. This time I tried called them by shaking the container; you know, as you do with dogs and cats. No birds though, but the mailman passed by and gave me a funny look. 

I then decided that timing their visits is probably essential, so I began noting down the hours when they come visit. Obviously this will require time along some trial and error; but eventually if the patterns are carefully observed, then one could find and feed them.

How to befriend a crow?” was another Google search, and the answers were more or less saying the same:

The best thing you can do is put out peanuts consistently and don’t look directly at the birds when you do so (at least initially). Be conspicuous about you being the one to drop the food, but do not throw the food toward the crows or look at them initially, but do make sure they are in the area. Then, go back inside.”

 It seems that the key to success lies in establishing a regular feeding schedule.

Other articles are more like step-by-step guide for those who want to make friends with crows. Apparently lots of people are allured by the birds I’m actually flabbergasted from the amount of information available onlin. 

Finally spotted at 15:15

Amusingly, while finalising this article I still didn’t have a photo of a crow. I was leaving it as a last step, thinking that I could probably settle with one off Google or Wikipedia. After all, all other photos are mine. But then, I took the sunflower seeds and went out for one last trial.

This is when I saw that a flying black bird was sort of eyeing me — as soon as I stepped out. It is like it has been waiting for that moment. First thing I did was to wiggle the sunflower seeds plastic container to attracts its attention, and it did. The bird proceeded to rest up there by the wire, still keeping an eye on where I was located. I then swiftly went in to bring the camera. Once out, I started again with the wiggling and I could see that it was carefully watching me. Between handling the camera while trying to open the container at the same time, the bird flew away. I still kept some seeds on the ground before going in.    

Back out after a couple of hours, the sunflower seeds were gone. All of them. Tomorrow at 15:15 I will go out, making the sound noises and leaving the same seeds in hope to set a regular feeding schedule.

This time, two of my next-door neighbours passed by, looking at me with intrigue. I told them that “I’m writing an article about crows”. Aha.

Let us see what shall follow next and how the tail will unfold. What if I get to befriend the bird and then one day, after a moment of silence, it looks at me and says: “Nevermore”? Or maybe it’ll communicate in French, asking why did the fox take the cheese. Either way, if something does occur you will certainly know about it.

Until then, I still remain yearning for a doggo ... or any close companionship.

“I’m looking for love all around me
Looking for love to surround me
The love that I need
To rescue the state of my heart”
— Whitesnake, Looking For Love


Encounter With a Drowning Fruit Fly

Reviving a Drowning Bee [Video] — Learning the Do’s and Don’ts

Animals Getting High: Weird Nature ― Peculiar Potions [Documentary]

A Dieu Caramella
Training a Gentle Giant 

Some Animals I Shot

Why Cats Are Not Dogs

When Lady Ran Away

When The Puppies Ate The “Chocolate”

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