Planted, beetle


Photos by Mark Renz - Alva, FL

Click! Click! Click! Click!

My buddy Kyle and I were unaware of the late model SUV
that had pulled up next to us on a narrow road in rural Alva.
We were lost in another world
adjusting our focus
checking our aperture and shutter speed
then snapping another round of 4 or 5 images --
oohing and ahhing over a beetle recently crucified
on a barbed wire fence

Click! Click! Click! Click!

It's not that we thought it was cool to see a Coleoptera
with a sharp point thrust through it's back
But we were fascinated that a bird was the crime's perpetrator
and its art of impalement was acceptable avian behavior

Click! Click! Click! Click!

"Um, can I help you?" asked a middle-aged woman from the SUV's unrolled window.

"Oh hi!" I said excitedly. "I didn't see you...We're photographing grub worms and beetles
that were impaled on the barbed wire by a loggerhead shrike!"

"A loggerhead what?" she asked.

"A shrike. It's a small bird..."

"Look," she interrupted. "I live right up the road about a quarter of a mile
and I get suspicious when I see two men pointing cameras in the direction of my house."

"I'm sorry," I replied. "But we're..."

"What are you taking pictures of again?" she demanded, as if we were on trial.

"Worms and beetles," I answered in my most reassuring tone while pointing at one of the little buggars.

"Worms and beetles..." she repeated as if they were code words for some secret undercover operation.

Planted grubworm

"Yes mam," I continued. "A small bird called a loggerhead shrike catches prey too big to swallow in one gulp.
It has a large head and a powerful hooked beak for grabbing those huge grubbers.
The only problem is that it's legs and talons are too small for grasping the large prey it catches.
So it impales them on thorns and barbed-wire fences to hold them still, much like you might plunge a fork into a rib-eye steak!"

Unimpressed, she eyed us both contemptuously.

After trying to convince her that we weren't spying on her house, waiting for the best time to rob it
or to perhaps order air strikes from a nearby drone, the practical joker in me grew tired of her suspicions.

"I suppose we could pass for Al-Qaeda," I blurted out, which prompted both Kyle and I to laugh.
"Just kidding!" I quickly added.

To that, she shook her head and drove away.

If she had stuck around with any sense of innocent curiosity, I would have told her more about the loggerhead shrike,
which prefers rural areas for its habitat. The bird hunts by perching quietly on a fence post until it spots prey.
Then it hoovers over the unsuspecting bug before diving down for the kill. Because shrikes use this method
no matter what they prey on -- a large beetle or a tiny fly -- they end up using the same amount of energy.
Natural selection then suggests the birds go for the biggest possible prey to make the best use
of the amount of energy spent hunting.

On the drive home, I thought about our "human" encounter on our shrike expedition.
I can't blame the woman for being suspicious initially. But I was also disappointed that some of my fellow ruralites
can't find room to allow a little innocence into their encounters with strangers armed with cameras.
By being suspicious of everyone, we trust no one.
You never get hurt that way, but you also may miss out on some of life's more enriching experiences.

The perpetrator: A loggerhead shrike