THE YELLOW PAGES ECOLOGY GAME
by Whit Gibbons
August 10, 2008
received a phone book and was pleased to see that the Yellow Pages are
still part of our culture and have not been completely replaced by the
Internet. Examine the Yellow Pages and play a game I have mentioned before.
How many services and products can you find that in some way mimic a plant
I will use
the A's to make the point--Airlines, Air-conditioning, and Advertising.
Each has its counterpart in the natural world. An airplane is simply a
means of transportation. For centuries plants have depended on the airline
service of insects to transport pollen from one flower to another. Some
birds even make transoceanic flights, and monarch butterflies and hummingbirds
travel between Canada and Mexico every year.
is definitely not restricted to humans. Honeybees will wave their wings
in unison to fan a hive during extremely hot weather, lowering the temperature
several degrees. Many reptiles and amphibians escape the summer heat by
retreating deep into underground burrows that stay as cool as a cave all
is a widespread phenomenon directed toward a particular audience or for
a specific purpose. Organisms of all sorts make effective use of color,
sound, and smell in their advertisements. An obvious example comes in
the form of brightly colored flowers. Their customers are insects, which
are essential for pollination; the advertised product is nectar for the
insect. Male birds, frogs, and the katydids of midsummer use sound to
advertise to females their availability for mating. Bright red is often
a form of advertisement in the animal kingdom that means "stay away."
The bright red-and-black, almond-scented millipedes emit the sweet smell
of maraschino cherries when picked up, a product of cyanide that is poisonous
to would-be predators. These are harmless to pick up if the secretions
do not get into cuts or the eyes. But do not confuse them with the bright
red centipedes that have fangs that inject venom.
heavily on lights for advertising, as do some animals such as the lightning
bugs seen in backyards across the United States. Their purpose is not
so that children can catch them and carry fireflies home in a jar; the
males are blinking their lights in a code that indicates they are available
for courtship. To attract the male, the female firefly, who also has a
light, returns the signal from her location on the ground or vegetation.
Because many species are often active at the same time and place, the
fireflies obey that well-known advertising maxim: Know Your Audience.
The codes of the different species vary, thus preventing mating mix-ups.
entries include Apartments, Archery Equipment, and Adhesives. One only
need look at squirrel nests in oak trees or wolf spider burrows on the
ground to see that we are surrounded by apartments. Fox dens, woodpecker
cavities, and gopher tortoise burrows add to the diversity of apartment
dwellings among animals. Although the projectile may be different, the
principle is the same in the case of the archer fish of the Philippines
that puts its mouth above the surface and squirts water toward an insect
on a leaf as much as three feet away, so that it becomes a meal when it
falls in. Although the distance is much shorter, the stinging cells of
some jellyfish are projectiles that can penetrate the skin of another
animal perceived as a threat. As far as adhesives, one need not look far
to encounter an impressive array, including pine sap, spider webs, and
the skin secretions of woodland salamanders.
starting soon, teachers who are looking for a class assignment related
to the environment might consider the Yellow Pages ecology game with the
rest of the alphabet. How many human services and products parallel what
can be found in the natural world? Although most are duplicated in nature,
one heading in the A section is uniquely human: Attorneys. Although some
do make good friends and relatives, apparently nothing comparable exists
among plants or other animals. As far as I can tell, lawyers are not a
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