hugabug 11: Jumping beans

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

Right-click or Command+click to download

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.

Bonus:

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

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