Nature's Tiny Teachers

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Published on: May. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

spend many minutes watching an ant work or appreciating the complexity of a leaf.

Eddie's idea of leaf-study is a good one, especially if there is a hungry caterpillar patiently reducing the size of it. The caterpillar's head bobs rhythmically, like some fuzzy harvesting machine, and the leaf gradually disappears in tiny bites.

If we could get world leaders to spend a few days on their bellies in the grass watching caterpillars eat, there would be far less mischief on a global scale.

Most people, even those with an appreciation of nature, miss out on much. I think being a hunter is a plus for a nature-watcher. Hunters are predators; therefore we are attuned to motion. I will see a groundhog working the edge of a pasture where people with me don't. A bird's flicker in the trees catches my eye while others miss it.

Because I subconsciously know what should be there, I notice what shouldn't-a straight line in nature's irregular pattern for example.

But my favorite nature study area is the hummingbird feeder, not for what I can learn about hummingbirds, but for the fun of watching them in action.

There is a South American hummingbird whose latin name is superciliousus, and whoever named it knew hummers. Hummers are snooty beyond any other bird. They know exactly how good they are and flaunt their talents endlessly.

They are contentious far beyond their size. If a hummingbird were as big as an eagle, none of us would be safe. They are fearless, always wearing a chip on their tiny shoulders. They have as much curiosity about me as I do about them.

If I wear a red hat, I look like a potential Big Mac of a flowerhead, and they'll buzz the hat, making me duck instinctively.

What does it take to catch a hummingbird? The reflexes of Rocky? The legerdemain of a card shark? Nothing I've seen remotely threatens a hummer.

They'll duel with irritable wasps, and it's no contest. As quick as a wasp is, it doesn't have a prayer against a vigilant hummer. The wasp feints at the hummer and finds nothing there. The hummer is gone in an eyeblink now behind the confused wasp. It's like Muhammad Ali in his salad days, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee-except the hummer doesn't sting; it just evades.

But hummingbirds are only one little act in nature's variety show. A garden spider, patiently waiting for food to

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