June 30: SPECIAL GUESTS in the studio

This week’s Break Your Radio show is here WSG: a baker’s dozen helium balloons, returning co-host Jennifer Lee, hip-hop starlet One Thought, and our very quiet music director.

LISTEN (2 hours):
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We start with lots of soul, get into some old-school jams, and indulge in a few digressions. We celebrate the impending Fourth of July by reciting “America the Beautiful” over machine gun fire and the tinkling of classical piano.

Herein, also learn what Lord Buckley’s voice would sound like on helium (sped up from 33 to 45 rpm). A note to trivia hounds: Frank Zappa edited the Lord Buckley album that I found in our music library, “A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat.”

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

Things got chaotic in the studio. This list surely lacks some trax.

1. Roger Taylor = “Future management”, Fun in space.
2. INF = “Soul check mate”, Music for crime scenes.
3. Von Ryan’s Express = “Squat pot”, Von Ryan’s Express.
4. Johnnie Taylor = “The users”, She’s killing me.
5. Luther Ingram = “My honey and me”, I’ve been here all the time.
6. Redbone = “Sweet lady of love”, Come and get your Redbone: The best of Redbone.
7. John Lennon & Yoko Ono = “Cleanup time”, Double fantasy.
8. Exusama = Baroquin, Excusez-moi!.
9. Family of God = “Watch with mother”, Family of God.
10. Elastica = “Indian song”, Elastica.
11. Family of God = “2nd touch”, Family of God.
12. Eels = “Beginner’s luck”, Hombre Lobo: 12 songs of desire.
13. Animal hours = “Submarine”, Do over.
14. TRAFFIC = “Rock & roll stew”, The low spark of high heeled boys.
15. The Guess Who? = “Maple fudge”, Wheatfield soul.
16. The Orb + Lee Scratch Perry = “Soulman”, The observer in the star house.
17. Sleepy Kitty = “THE HOAX”, Projection room.
18. Potpourri of Pearls = “Shadow on my shoulder”, Why does coco cry?.
19. Little Lapin = “Silent tears”, Little Lapin.
20. Courtney Barnett = “Kim’s caravan”, Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.
21. Hot Chip = “White wine and fried chicken”, Why make sense?.
22. Nocturnal Sunshine ft. Chelou = “Believe”, Nocturnal Sunshine.
23. Andreya Triana = “Clutterbug”, Giants.
24. INF = “Bubble gum heist”, Music for crime scenes.
25. The Sixths w/ Melanie = “I’ve got New York”, Hyacinths and thistles.


June 23

In which I realize that three squared does not equal twenty-seven.

(2 hours)
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Scattered throughout the show are a few of the bands that I caught at the NXNE music/comedy/film/etc festival in Toronto. Not included here, though worth checking out, are brilliant comedians who gave me belly laughs, namely Ashley Barnhill and Nick Thune.

[Aside: I missed this crazy choreographed event with David Byrne, tune-yards, Nelly Furtado, et al. in Toronto by a mere one day. I don’t want to talk about it anymore because it makes me sad and frustrated to have missed it. Console me.]

Stay tuned to the end to experience the mesmerizing hypnosis of found sound from a casino. JACKPOT.

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

1. Lucius = “Turn it around”, Wildewoman.
2. Hop Along = “Powerful man”, Painted shut.
3. Alabama Shakes = “Future people”, Sound & color.
4. Ava Luna = “Steve Polyester”, Infinite house.
5. TEEN = “toi toi toi”, The way and color.
6. Pins = “Got it bad”, Wild nights.
7. Matthew E. White = “Holy moly”, Fresh blood.
8. Acorn = Influence, Vieux loup.
9. Roisin Murphy = “Uninvited guest”, Hairless toys.
10. Tubes = “Muscle girls”, Love bomb.
11. Papas Fritas = “Hey hey you say”, Helioself.
12. Nick Diamonds = “Something about the moon”, City of quartz.
13. The Roots = “The seed (2.0)”, Phrenology.
14. Young Fathers = “27”, White men are black men too.
15. Justin Walter = “Western tears”, Lullabies & nightmares.
16. Andreya Triana = “Lullaby”, Giants.
17. Girlpool = “Before the world was big”, Before the world was big.
18. Prinzhorn Dance School = “Reign”, Home economics.
19. Michelle Blades = “Risk fruit”, Ataraxia.
20. Nessa = “Gigue by Blavet”, Nessa.
21. Tyondai Braxton = “Boids”, HIVE1.
22. Damaged Bug = “Grape basement”, Cold hot plumbs.
23. Nuyorican Soul = “Habriendo el dominante”, Nuyorican Soul.
24. Money Mark = “Another day to love you”, Change is coming.
25. Shamir = “Make a scene”, Ratchet.
26. Shokazulu = “Pie”, EP.
27. Adrian Rew = “Horseshoe Casino, Cleveland, Ohio”, Slot Machine Music.

We’re back online! new new new radio show

If you’ve drifted off, then WAKE UP because have I ever got a new show for you, after lo these many periods of time.

It’s not that I haven’t been playing music for you–you can Break Your Radio every single Tuesday night at 10 til midnight by tuning to 88.3 FM in southeast Michigan or streaming live anywhere on the planet via wcbn.org.

But opportunities to Break Your Radio have been as ephemeral as the electromagnetic waves received moment by moment and emitted just as quickly through the speakers in your radio or computer, only to disappear once more into the ether.

But HOORAY, each episode once again will be memorialized on this very website for your aural pleasure.

Thanks to Chicago Alex for making this happen. THANKS, Alex, for listening all this time and for asking me so nicely to replenish your RSS feed every week. You’re not a spy from the FCC or a major record label, are you?

Please enjoy the June 2 edition of Break Your Radio:

(2 hours)
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Artist = “Song title,” Album title. [Notes.]

1. [Broadway Stars] = “Some enchanted evening,” South Pacific soundtrack.
2. Punch Brothers = “Who’s feeling young now?” Who’s feeling young now?.
3. Punch Brothers = “You are,” Antifogmatic.
4. Elaine Purkey = “Who’ll watch the homeplace,” Mountain music, mountain struggle.
5. Joan Collins = “Sleep,” The Joan Collins beauty and exercise record.
6. Stephanie Greggains = “Chariots of Fire – Cool down,” Thin thighs, hips & stomach: Aerobic shape-up III. [Contains 16 page photo instruction book]
7. Barbie Allen = “Cool down stretch – Just the two of us,” Dance/Exercise.
8. DJ Jester: the Filipino Fist = track 2, River walk riots.
9. Jib Kidder = “Lossy Angeles,” Earzumba/Jib Kidder split.
10. Bobby Troup & Trio = “That darn cat,” Original music score from the sound track of the motion picture: That Darn Cat.
11. Dean Martin = “June in January,” The Dean Martin Deluxe Set. [More than 30 of his greatest hits!]
12. Warren Covington and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra = “Orchids in the moonlight,” It takes two…to cha cha tango samba merengue mambo rumba.
13. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass = “So what’s new?,” What now my love.
14. Kenosha Kid = “Map of the universe,” Inside voices.
15. Jel = “Thnk4U,” Late pass.
16. DJ Mayonnaise = “Post reformat,” Still alive.
17. Illuminati Congo ft. Del the Funky Homosapien = “No no,” All eye see.
18. K-Chill = “Boom booms 93,” Get ya funky off.
19. Govind Bolo Gopal Bolo = “Nandbhawan Nandlal Thumak Chalan Lage,” Krishna Bhajan.
20. Frank Zappa = “Dirty love,” Apostrophe/Overnight sensation.
21. Janet Jackson = “What have you done for me lately,” Control.
22. Courtney Barnett = “An illustration of loneliness (sleepless in New York),” Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.

This week was an especially auspicious time to start all this up again, as the exceedingly lovely Gina Gettum brought her brightness and her veggietables to bear during the show.

Also check out the new sticker on the window in our FM studio. It provides a pep talk every time you look up from the microphone.

Interview with Mirah

Mirah and I chatted on the phone, then a tiny bit in person after her show at Trinosophes this week. Listen to the phone interview (plus my whole radio show, even):

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The audio includes my two-hour radio show, plus a smidgen of the next DJ’s. Mirah stars for the first 1.5 hours, and the interview begins about 30 minutes in.

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

1. Mirah = “Take me out riding”, The old days feeling
2. Mirah = “Gone are all the days”, (A)Spera
3. Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra = “The light”, To all we stretch the open arm
4. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Pure”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
5. Thao & Mirah = “How dare you”, Thao & Mirah
6. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Oh! September”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
7. Mirah feat. Tender Forever = “Low self control”. [video]
[The interview]
8. Mirah = “1982 (atari)” Storageland
9. Mirah = “La familia”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
10. Mirah and Spectratone International = “Community”, Share this place
11. Thao & Mirah = “Rubies and rocks”, Thao & Mirah
12. Mirah = “No direction home”, Changing light [video]
13. Mirah = “I am the garden”, Changing light
14. Mirah = “Pollen”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
15. Mirah = “Cold cold water”, Cold cold water EP
16. Thao & Mirah = “Sugar and plastic”, Thao & Mirah
17. Santigold + Diplo = “Icarus”, [Some sorta exclusive album]
18. Tune-Yards = “Little tiger”, Bird-brains
19. Kate Bush = “Army dreamers”, The whole story
20. Suzanne Vega = “Pilgrimage”, Days of open hand
21. Gaze = “Static”, Shake the pounce
22. Enon = “Daughter in the house of fools”, Hocus-pocus
23. Belly = “It’s not unusual (the usual mix)”, Moon
24. Envelopes = “I don’t even know”, Demon [which is Swedish for “demos”]

25. FKA Twigs = “Two weeks”, LP1
26. Xeno & Oaklander = “Jasmine nights”, Par avion
27. Actress = “Towers”, Ghettoville
28. Santigold = “Disparate youth”, Master of my make-believe
29. Dr. Science [the science of shampoo]

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

hugabug 15: Nonhuman animal love

from Pietsch 2005 (Journal of Ichthyological Research)

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Music in this show:
1. Destiny’s Child, “Girl”
2. Zap Mama, “Son subano”
3. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Love is delicious.

And it comes in three flavors: Friendship, Romance, and Family.

Vampire bats share blood meals with friends.

Vampire bats eat blood and only blood. But some nights, a vampire bat has bum luck, hunts for blood, and fails. This is a big deal, because a vampire bat can go without food for only about two days before it starves to death. So it begs.

It asks other bats in the roost to share the blood they ate. If the hungry bat is a good friend–in other words, if the bat is known to be generous; if it shares its own meals when other bats in the roost have come home hungry, reduced to begging; then it gets a favor. A friend reciprocates by regurgitating its own dinner into the hungry bat’s mouth.

from Wilkinson 1990 (Scientific American)
(Click the pic to view a larger version)

These bats live by the familiar philosophy: You scratch my back, I’ll vomit blood into your mouth.

Meanwhile, in the deep sea…

A male anglerfish shows his desire for a lady by sinking his teeth in her body. The male is teeny tiny, and he lives in a vast, deep, dark ocean. It’s rare for anyone in the ocean to meet anyone at all, because the ocean is so big, and the anglerfish is so, so small.

from Pietsch 1976 (Copeia)

His loneliness, the emptiness–it’s intolerable. So the tiny anglerfish uses giant nostrils to smell for ladies in the murky darkness. If he finds one, he bites her. Hard. And he does not let go.

Above: from Pietsch 1976 (Copeia)
Below: from Pietsch 2005 (Journal of Ichthyological Research)

The male becomes a permanent fixture on the female fish. Their bodies literally fuse together, and the couple becomes a single body for the rest of their lives. From then on, any food the female hunts, she shares, because all nutrients flow to both of them by their connected bloodstream.

The love between parent and child often involves poop.

A mother gives the gift of poop to her baby elephant. Mom’s feces make a healthy snack, actually, for the baby. It’s not the poop the baby is eating, really–it’s the microbes in the poop.

The baby is born without any microbes in its belly at all, which is a problem. Microbes are essential to eat and digest grass. But a wise, wonderful elephant mother has a developed digestive system, microbes included. And through poop, parents pass important microbes from generation to generation. In this way, little elephant babies can eat grass, grow…make friends, find romance, and feed poop to their own babies.

from van Geel et al. 2011 (Quaternary Science Reviews)

Love is disgusting.

— — — — —

This show was a contender in the Third Coast 2013 ShortDocs Challenge. Click here to hear more submissions from all over the world.

And talented wonderwoman Olivia Walch created a comic based on the puking bats you heard about here!

from Olivia’s Methods comic series

hugabug 14: Learning To See

Robert Oelman

Bugs + Movies =

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Music in this show:
1. DMK, “Enjoy the silence”
2. Little Cow, “What will be”
3. Henry Mancini, “Baby elephant walk”
4. Thomas Newman, title track from Brothers
5. Yma Sumac, “Tree of life”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Jake Oelman is quick to point out that, yes, his dad lives in Colombia, South America; but no, his dad is not a drug dealer.

Jake’s father, Robert Oelman, was a psychologist working in Boston until he left his career, moved to South America, and began photographing insects. Jake is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Right now, father and son are collaborating on a documentary film. Jake describes it as an exploration of “how a person goes and changes their life path from being in one profession to taking up something completely different, in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.” The film highlights Robert’s photography and his fascination with the insects that model for him.

To date, Robert has survived his interactions with diverse, mysterious bugs in the jungles of South America. But Jake shared a story about a close call for his dad. “He was watching a television program back at his house in Colombia. A program about this deadly spider–one of the most deadly spiders in the world. He was like, ‘Wow, that thing looks really familiar; I’ve seen that before.’ So he went back and he actually had this photograph of the spider.” Robert figured at the time that the spider was potentially dangerous. Jake said, “If somebody doesn’t want you to take their photograph, they’ll let you know that they don’t want their photograph taken. And the same is true with the insects.”

How Robert Oelman survived a photo shoot with this creature is anyone’s guess.

Robert actually built a house in Colombia and began by photographing hummingbirds in flight. He keeps dozens of hummingbird feeders at his house, “and they come in droves. It’s a pretty magical experience when you’re there for the first time, because you’re in the house, and you just hear this sound…” Jake describes it as “just energy swarming around you constantly.” Taking pictures of the hummingbirds seems to have strengthened Robert’s “photographic eye”, and he eventually transitioned to insect macro photography.

“He saw an insect one day, he photographed it, and then when he looked at the photograph, he was like, ‘Whoa! I can see more in the photograph than I can with my naked eye!’ And the lightbulb went off, and he’s been photographing them ever since. He just feels as if he could never stop finding new things to photograph in the insect world.”

“Since his eyes are open to it, then my eyes become open to it.” Jake’s sentiment permeates the film and is underscored by the film’s title: Learning To See.

Robert Oelman

It was Jake’s idea to make the movie. His dad was reluctant, initially, to be the focus of a documentary. But Jake was persuasive. He told Robert, “You want your work to be seen. You’re photographing things that some people have never been able to photograph before. You’re photographing things that may or may not exist 5 or 10 years from now. You’re photographing things that little kids have never seen.”

Robert’s process involves capturing insects and bringing them to a makeshift tent studio in the Amazonian rainforest. “They’re jumping all over the place. The first time you have a really big katydid crawling on your arm…I have a respect for it,” says Jake. “Because all of a sudden, now I’m in his world, so I can’t be squeamish. I have to have a respect. … There’s something surreal happening in those types of experiences.”

Jake wasn’t always comfortable with bugs, and he and his dad weren’t always close. “My parents divorced when I was really young. I think once my dad became a photographer, we became closer. I had already been working in film for quite a while before that, so when he started to take photographs, … I think that we started to relate to one another’s professional aspirations. So that kind of brought us in a little bit closer, which is funny to think that he moved so far away, and then we got closer as a result of that.”

But just like Robert occasionally finds a spider of death hitchhiking in a pile of collected leaves, Jake laughs when he says that “… we can still bump heads, too, which will be interesting. When it’s two artists coming together in a remote part of the world … Who knows; that could even make the story, as well.”

Robert Oelman

Jake and Robert are filming one more trip outside of Colombia to finish the project. “Now, the place that we go to in Peru–it’s a pretty long trip to get there. So, my understanding is that you fly into Cuzco. And then from Cuzco, you take a bus … down into the jungle, and then you get on a canoe. It takes two days to get from Cuzco to where we’re going … an outpost in the Manu territory of Peru. And we’ll just be going on expedition every day.”

So Jake and Robert have a few more bugs to hug for their film, Learning To See. And with their Kickstarter campaign, they have a chance of actually completing the project. With the kickstarter, they’re asking for some support to fund the last leg of their project. If you want the documentary to exist (and maybe get a digital download, DVD, or even photographic art as part of the deal), you are expressly invited to do that thang. They’re passing the hat for just 7 more days.

Update: Success!! Jake and Robert’s kickstarter has been funded! Good work, everyone. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Robert Oelman does not restrict himself to photographing insects.

(Click on those thumbnails to view larger photos)

hugabug 13: Fecal shield

from Hall & Butler 2001 (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Document EENY-232)

Some beetles reuse their poop by wearing it.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Rafter, “Feels good”
2. Balkan Beat Box, “Blue eyed black boy”
3. Battles, “Inchworm”
4. Rafter, “Timeless form, formless time”
5. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

If poop serves a useful purpose, then you can’t really call it a “waste product”, right? Some beetles reuse their dung by wearing it for protection.

The palmetto tortoise beetle does look sort of like a tortoise, with its domed back and flat belly pressed against a leaf. When it’s young, though, crawling around as a larva, it looks more like a tangle of tiny sticks. Or maybe like a big, heavy, looped string of tiny linked sausages. It seems to wear something like a giant straw hat of feces that hides its entire body.

photo by Dr. Rebecca Forkner

And that’s the whole point! Dangerous enemies can’t get past the wall of poop that the beetle larva built for itself. The tortoise beetle uses its telescoping anus to spool its dried poop in coiled layers over the top of its body. It can point its anus in different directions to build the most effective wall of poop between itself and the dangers of the world.

For other beetles, too, their feces don’t just plop out as wastes. Some beetles create fecal shields, which they hold on their butt and can position in the direction of an attack. Sometimes the poop shield is toxic, because of the chemicals in the beetles’ food plants.

from Vencl et al. 1999 (Journal of Chemical Ecology)

The defense is even more effective when social beetles respond to attackers by forming a tight circle–heads in the center, butts on the outside–holding up all of their fecal shields. Attackers can’t get past the solid blockade of toxic poops.

For these beetles, poop serves them well through most of their lives. Even as eggs, the beetle babies are protected by their mother’s poop. The momma defecates on her eggs; the crusty poop shell resists predators and may camouflage the babies.

from Prathapan & Chaboo 2011 (ZooKeys)

Now, I don’t necessarily think that you should wear a poop hat, nor that it’s good advice to hide behind your excrement or to use it as a weapon. Butt–these beetles teach us the utility of recycling! Recycle as much as you can. It’s not waste when it’s useful.

And hug a bug. You can wash your hands later.

hugabug 12: Carrion flowers

The biggest flower in the world smells like a rotting corpse, which attracts the flies that pollinate it.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Eels, “Flyswatter”
2. Bela Karoli, “Some things that fly there be”
3. Tin Hat Trio & Tom Waits, “Helium reprise”
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Imagine the fragrance of a dense jungle full of colorful flowers. Now imagine the smell of death. That’s the stench of the biggest flower in the world. It’s called Rafflesia, and it smells like a rotting corpse.

You know who loves Rafflesia? Bugs. Flies, most often. The kind of flies that like the smells that nauseate people. The kind of flies that eat poop and lay their eggs in rotting flesh.

Rafflesia depends on flies for pollination. Yet Rafflesia does not reward its pollinators for the favor. No, it fools flies into visiting by mimicking the stench, appearance, and even the temperature of a rotting animal carcass.

The Rafflesia flower is so big that you really could stumble on it as you hike through Sumatra or the Philippines. It’s huge–3 feet across, from petal to petal. Perhaps even big enough to resemble the body of a dead animal. Some other stinky species have hairy petals, which looks deceivingly like mold or fur. Rafflesia flowers even generate heat! Higher temperatures help to volatilize the odors so the pungent aromas can waft through the forest and attract distant flies. The flower’s heat also may feel like a steaming pile of excrement or a warm dead body.

And the flies, they come. They’re attracted to the flower that smells, looks, and feels like a good place to eat and lay their eggs. These flies are foolish, or desperate, or bound by instinct, and relegate their maggot babies to a short life of starvation–because the maggots find themselves not in the rotting meat of an animal, but instead on a flower that’s inedible. The baby flies that hatch on Rafflesia cannot survive.

But the unfortunate flies have pollinated the putrid Rafflesia flower, which now can make malodorous babies of its own.

You know what’s strange is that it seems fairly common for cadavers and cheese to share odors. In the case of cheese, people exploit pregnant flies and their maggot babies. There’s this cheese from Sardinia–casu marzu–that tastes delicious because of the flies that lay their eggs in it. The maggots eat the cheese, digest it, and poop it out, helping to create the soft, leaky delicacy. You’re advised to eat it, maggots and all, while the bugs are still alive.

So next time you’re in the jungle, and you spot the rare and beautiful (but awful-smelling) Rafflesia flower…or when you have a taste of that wriggling Italian cheese…Thank a fly. Hug a bug.

— — — — —

Elsewhere in the world and on the internet:

The titan arum is another magnificently beautiful and gigantic flower that emits a characteristically fetid stench.

The “stink lily” is an edible (by humans) tuber that also smells disgusting (to humans). Here is an illustrated account of a manual pollination attempt, replete with a dog wearing a gas mask.

hugabug 11: Jumping beans

It’s the bug inside that makes a jumping bean jump.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Fauna, “Hongo x Hongo”
2. CSC Funk Band, “A troll’s soiree” (Brooklyn Chimp remix)
3. Chicha Libre, “Popcorn Andino”
4. Paco de Lucía, “La niña de puerta oscura”
5. Caravan of Thieves, “Mexico”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

The worm in your bottle of tequila (mezcal, actually) is not the only worm that you’ll find in souvenirs from Mexico. Check your jumping beans, too.

I’ve only ever gotten jumping beans from toy stores, but you could find them for yourself in the Mexican desert. There is where jumping beans jump.

Let’s get two things straight–

1. A jumping bean is not a bean. It’s a seed capsule on a shrub that is toxic to humans. The plant has been used by people to poison the tips of arrows.

2. The worm inside a jumping bean (sort of like the one in your bottle of mezcal) is not a worm. It’s an insect larva, a baby bug, that goes through metamorphosis and becomes a moth. It’s the bug inside that makes the jumping bean jump.

Put it under a warm lamp or the sun, or in your fist. Whatever makes the bean hot makes it hop. At higher temperatures, the larva grips the wall of the seed capsule, bends its body, and snaps back, slamming its head against the wall. That’s how it moves its hollow little house out of the hot desert sun and into the safety of shade.

When I was a kid, I thought jumping beans broke after a while, like any other toy. The beans would stop jumping. But it’s not like the bug in the bean is broken. The bug probably is not dead. Just the opposite–the bug is growing.

The larva settles down as it plans for the future. It uses its mandibles to chew the outline of a doorway in the seed capsule that fed and protected it. The door is pre-cut, almost as a perfect circle, and it stays closed during metamorphosis, reinforced with woven silk from the larva. This is the escape hatch for the post-metamorphosis moth.

When it’s ready, the moth head-butts the wall one last time, leaving you and your jumping bean behind.

from Riley 1882 (Proceedings of the United States National Museum)

Now you do the hopping–across the border, through the Mexican desert, to a toxic shrub. Grab a jumping bean. Hug a bug.


Enjoy this trip of a short silent film, which begins with jumping beans and goes off on a wide tangent.

hugabug 10: Velvet worms

from Mayer & Harzsch 2007 (BMC Evolutionary Biology)

Velvet worms do it headfirst.
Listen to find out how and why.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Pizzicato Five, “Baby love child”
2. The Supremes, “Baby love”
3. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

New! Leave a voicemail for hugabug:
(734) 707–7750

A velvet worm is not really a worm. It’s not quite an insect, either. By any measure, velvet worms occupy their own special category of little creatures. If you find one in the dark, moist crevice of a rotting log, you might think it looks like the love child between an earthworm and centipede that was made into a stuffed animal.

photo by Andras Keszei

Under a microscope, you’ll see something different. Check for spikes or other unusual features, like claws or tusks, on the heads of the males. Even what looks like a pit between their antennae can flip inside-out to reveal something like a thorn on their forehead.

Above: from Tait & Norman 2006 (Journal of Zoology)
Below: from Rockman et al. 2001 (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution)

Only males carry extra anatomy on their heads. Which raises the question: Do those head structures have something to do with gettin’ some?

The answer is yes. Velvet worms have at least two unparalleled methods of sex.

The first involves going in headfirst. Lord only knows how a male gets sperm from one end of his body to the other, but he does. He makes himself a sperm hat, then approaches a female and pushes his head into her vagina. He’s wedged securely, and the female keeps his head steady with her feet.

The second mode of copulation involves neither the head nor the vagina of a velvet worm. We’re talking insemination through the skin.[1] Here’s what happens–one or several males place one or several sperm packets on a female velvet worm’s skin, all over the place. On her back, her sides, anywhere along the length of her body. The female’s own cells dissolve her skin under a ball of sperm, and a blister forms there. The bursting blister tears her skin and the sperm packet. The sperm swim into the female through her muscle, her tissues, her blood, eventually reaching her ovaries.

The beautiful part of this process is that the empty sperm packet sticks to the female over the wound that formed in her skin; it’s like a natural band-aid. Her body heals the hole, and the next time she sheds her skin to grow, she’s good as new. And pregnant.

Thanks to Andras Keszei for sharing the image

By the way, some velvet worms may not even need a guy’s help to have babies. But that’s another story.

For now, tip your sperm hat to these innovative velvet worms and their creativity when it comes to sex. I hope this gets you in the mood.

To hug a bug.

photo by James Wood

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All that, not to mention the gooey cannons used by velvet worms to hunt:

“Two pistols that fire sticky ropes…slimed!” from National Geographic

After a bit of perambulating with its “soft, slumpy legs”, the velvet worm entangles prey with glue shot from the modified legs on its face, and then “reclaims its glue by eating it.” from Mr. Attenborough

Mesmerizing mini-videos (a.k.a. gifs) of the sticky cannons from F@#$ Yeah! Biology!

from Dias & Lo-Man-Hung 2009 (Journal of Arachnology)

Furthermore, these videos do not depict that some velvet worms hunt in groups. And we didn’t even talk about the female-dominated social hierarchy of some velvet worms, where an “alpha female” gets the privilege of nomming all by herself. When she’s finished, other females pick apart the carcass. Finally, male worms are allowed the scraps.

Something like 200 different velvet worm species crawl all over the world using their little hydrostatic-powered legs. mm, diverse-looking.

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[1] ^ A detailed description of dermal-haemocoelic insemination, in all its jargony glory, with BONUS untranslated French and German excerpts: Manton 1938 (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B)