Friday, January 27, 2017

It’s a bug’s life


Author and science education consultant Geetha Iyer weaves tales of insects in her book The Weavers - The Curious World of Insects

When Geetha Iyer looks out into her expansive garden in her home in Suchindram, near Kanyakumari, or any garden or patch anywhere, for that matter, it’s not only the trees, flowers, birds, bees and butterflies that she sees but also wasps, moths, crickets, spiders and hundreds of other insects that live hidden in plain sight. It’s only a matter of opening your eyes and you can see the sheer diversity in the insect world, feels Geetha, author of the book The Weavers - The Curious World of Insects, published by Harper Collins.

The Weavers   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Geetha, a biology teacher and former head of Sahyadri school, Pune, now a freelance science education and environment consultant and macro photographer, was in the city to open up the world of insects to children at an interactive session at Children’s Library. “The moment most people hear the word insect, immediately their minds skip to cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes and other pests and to disease and to issues of hygiene and sanitation. They forget that there are myriads of other insects out there, many of which have fantastic stories to tell and valuable applications that can benefit humankind,” she says, her enthusiasm for bugs, infectious.

Long horned beetle   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

“I started taking an interest in insects while I was running a nature culb at Apeejay School in Noida. In those days Noida was just green open spaces populated with all manner of flora and fauna, where you could cross the bund and see birds on the Yamuna. It really caught on while I was teaching at Rishi Valley School, which is set in a sprawling 400-acre green campus in the interiors of Andra Pradesh,” she reminisces.

Moths are as colourful as butterflies   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

Her first book was Satpada, Our World Of Insects, a ready-reckoner on insects for students and amateur naturalists, which she co-wrote with former colleague at Rishi Valley, Rebecca Thomas. In The Weavers, the world of insects that weave silk, forms the central thread. In it Geetha explores their lives, their management practices, their mating rituals and so on, peppered with ‘oddities and eccentricities.’

Weaver ant queens with eggs   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

“Contrary to popular perception, silk worms are not the only ones that weave silk. Dance flies of the family Empididae court their mates by presenting them with silk-wrapped prey. Caddisflies weave protective cases in a variety of beautiful shapes. These cases are semi-permeable membranes. Insects have been spinning silk for millions of years, even if it has been only 5,000 years since humans discovered it. Why can’t we see it all as clothing material and harness their secrets of survival, especially as we are living in a world that’s facing cataclysmic environmental changes? Unfortunately, not much of research is being done on this area,” says the author.
However, Geetha’s primary area of interest, is in the field of science education. “My aim is to change the way biology is taught in the curriculum. For decades now, the curriculum has not changed. From class five to class 12, the same things are taught again and again - flower structure, breeding systems... Biology is essentially about life being sacred and we need to teach children to respect life in all its diversity. If they are taught to understand what life is all about then, perhaps, people would think twice about supporting animal cruelty sports,” says Geetha. Apart from helping schools audit their science programmes, Geetha runs the website to as a free resource for students and science teachers.
“Science can be fun; all it need is a bit of effort on the part of students and teachers. There is much to be taught and learnt from the originality, ingenuity and creativity of animals and insects,” she says.
Did you know?
The Caddisfly is an aquatic insect. These flies thrive only on clean water and are indicators of pollution.
Northern Praying Mantis is a Chinese martial art form, inspired by the aggressiveness of the praying mantis.
The jewel wasp injects mind-altering venom on cockroaches, which makes the latter behave like a dog on a leash. They then take them to their nests and lay eggs on them. The eggs develop on the cockroaches.
The Ming emperors in China used to hold cricket fights. Their prized champion insects were housed in gilded cages.

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