The Rain Beetle

by Pavan Kumar Kaushik – Students were running away from school like a scene from a prison break. Except these were graduate students escaping the talks describing excellent research during their grad school orientation. Among the escapees were two guys in a deep argument over a shallow issue. How obedient are the gardening staff? Like diligent students of the methods of rationality, they came up with a test and the weather cooperated with them. It started pouring; the monsoon had started. Will the gardeners switch off the sprinklers which were meant to maintain a temperate grassland in a tropical dry forest? The answer needed time and the rain was a great distraction. The rain had brought a puzzling expression on one of the lads. Initially it looked like joy, and on careful observation one could see the pain, questioning the injustice, the reason for this inequality. If you grew up in a desert and you experience tropical monsoon, this is how it might be. Meanwhile, the other boy was oblivious to these emotions, racing barefoot on the slippery grass. But then their eyes spot something. A dark blob flying amidst the severe downpour. They chase it to no avail, too fast. And the rain seemed to do anything but slow down. The two boys were sprinting to prevent a psychological hypothermia. Then they spot a 2.54cm long insect walking on the ground. It was a Beetle. The outer hydrophobic coating on the elytra made the rain water into glowing beads. Then they spot another, and another and some more. Like a geiger counter beeping faster as you approach a radioactive site, they spotted more and more beetles. Then they spotted one more, except this one seemed like it was burrowing in the ground. But on a closer inspection, the very round Beetle had raised its abdomen high up and a tiny finger like projection wiggled at the end. In a short while, a black object was flying nearby in loopy paths. It finally landed a few meters away from them in a very beetle-like fashion. Keep flying, bang onto something, crash, shake yourself up. A successful landing. The flying hummer started walking towards them and it reached the bent down Beetle. In a swift motion, they embraced in union, and the boys realized what they had just witnessed. A search flight amidst heavy rain by the male guided by the pheromones emitted from the female after a synchronized emergence. The union was brief. The visit culminated with an elegant takeoff flight. The female then started walking, stopping momentarily and walking again. It was laying eggs. From this episode one could ask many things. How do the beetles fly in the heavy rain? Do the females bending down while exuding the purported pheromones serve any function? How does the male detect odor amidst the rain? Among all these questions, does the behavior occurring amidst heavy rain reduce predatory pressure? The sun was way below the horizon now and the two boys left the lawns and they had resolved their argument. I was one of the two boys and the sprinkler was still meticulously doing its job though the rain had long stopped by then.

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