My wife and I sometimes watch “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” Sometimes we are amazed at how non-smart some of the contestants are, like not knowing what a noun is. Other times, we are amazed at how smart those fifth graders are. They are all so smart, and so charming, that sometimes it is not so bad when you don’t know the answer but they do.
But I cannot say the same about the dung fly. Here is an organism that does not even have much of a nervous system, to say nothing of higher brain functions. I do not think they are very good bloggers. They do not do very well at all on standardized tests. They are probably smarter and more ethical than politicians, but now I am going to upset dung fly fans by comparing them to politicians.
Anyway, I am sure that you are smarter than a dung fly, but sometimes I am not so sure that I am.
On the other hand, this flower here, pictured on the right, is a very smart flower. This is actually a mirror bee orchid, and it is one of several pollinating plants that have come up with a clever way to spread their pollen. They imitate the reproductive organs and chemical smells of a particular species of bee, wasp, or dung fly, and trick the male into thinking it is a female of its same species, and therefore trying to mate with it. In other words, this flower, in the interest of spreading its pollen far and wide, has become a sex toy*.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that thing looks anything like a mirror bee. I couldn’t find a picture of a dung fly plant that I thought I could use without permission. But if you can find one, I think you’ll agree that, while its stamen looks a bit more persuasively like a female dung fly, it still wouldn’t fool you into thinking it was a fly instead of a flower.
I can pat myself on the back and laugh at that poor dung beetle, think about how much smarter I am, and how funny it is that the males, who think they are propagating their species, have actually been tricked into propagating a different species.
And then I’ll be walking down the street, or in some grocery line, and I’ll look at some scantily clad hot model with impossibly good looks and an airbrushed body without any visible flaws, and my eyes will bug out of my head like a Porky Pig or Bugs Bunny. I’ll feel a rush of desire, and something will tell me that this is what I need to have, this is what I must look like in order to be happy and a fully acceptable human. All the envy and desire and comparing and feelings of inadequacy will wash over me like one big tidal wave.
Standing there in the aftermath of an experience like that, which only takes about 3 seconds, I’ll sometimes think of that simple dung fly. And in those moments, I feel just as dumb as a dung fly. I feel a little foolish. Here’s something that isn’t even real, and it can have this effect on me! Somewhat sheepishly, I have to admit to myself that magazine publishers are very clever indeed.