RECYCLING CAN BE A DRAMATIC EVENT
long has recycling been in vogue? At least since Coors championed the
idea of putting beer in recyclable aluminum cans more than half a century
ago. Yet a quarter century ago most U.S. communities still had neither
curbside recycling nor properly used recycling bins at schools and county
sites. On the other hand, Mother Nature's worldwide recycling program
has been around forever - it occurs each time an animal eats.
trophic level links in the natural recycling process are benign and
do not make people who are watching uncomfortable. An antelope grazing
or a squirrel eating acorns does not stir much emotion. Some higher
trophic level steps on the other hand elicit strong feelings. A leopard
stalking, catching, and eating an impala or a rattler envenomating a
rabbit can bring forth revulsion, disgust, or pity from some human observers.
But that's life--and death. When humans get involved in the natural
recycling process, the results can be unexpected, with consequences
far different from what was intended, and sometimes with a dramatic
twist. The following two instances are especially memorable.
recycling event occurred at my wife's school when a kindergarten teacher
encouraged students to bring in animals and plants for educational purposes.
One student brought in a cocoon wrapped in a hickory leaf. What an excellent
learning opportunity. Leave the cocoon on the twig it is hanging from,
put it in the front of the room, and have students check its development
each day or so. Nothing happens for a long time. Then, finally, a student
notices that something is emerging.
spring the students got to meet the cocoon's resident, a luna moth,
one of our most beautiful insects. Magnificent does not overstate their
appearance. Pale green, with a purple splash on the front wings and
a spot that looks like an eye on each back wing. The trailing extensions
on the rear wings are longer than those of swallowtail butterflies.
time. After putting the luna moth in a large jar, the students went
to lunch. When they returned it was time for the great event: releasing
the moth into its home in the natural world. They even invited the other
kindergarten class to come watch it fly away. The teacher tilted the
jar and the luna moth launched itself. A big sigh went up from the two
classes as the graceful moth rose into the blue sky. But the intake
of breath a moment later was even louder as the students watched a blue
jay swoop from nowhere and turn the moth into part of nature's recycling
scheme. Perhaps the educational lesson was that luna moths fly at night
to avoid birds.
recycling event was the result of an act of salvation. Steve Bennett,
who at the time was with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources,
was returning from a trip and saw a small red-and-black snake on the
highway. Recognizing it as a mud snake, one of the most beautiful and
uncommon of southern snakes, Steve stopped and picked it up to prevent
it from becoming roadkill. Finding a mud snake is so unlikely that the
event is always a special occasion for a biologist.
live in swamps and other wetlands. Steve saw no water on either side
of the road, so he carried the snake with him and drove until he came
to a stream. Standing on the bridge, he pitched the little snake into
the middle of the clear water. It had hardly touched the surface when
Steve saw the snake disappear into the enormous mouth of a largemouth
bass, the operator of a natural recycling bin disguised as a stream.
bad for the moth and the snake. In each case another animal benefited
from the recycling program, and worse things could have happened to
them--such as being sprayed with pesticide, getting hit by a car, or
having their native habitat destroyed. None of which can be deemed natural.
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