Because we know some of you didn’t quite get what was going on with the last This vs That (Cuddly vs Deadly), for the new one (Beauty vs brains) we’ve come up with a graph, complete with explanations of why we put what we put where. Confused yet? Well, read on for a better explanation.
BEAUTIFUL AND DUMB
Madagascan sunset moth:
Is it beautiful? This insect is gorgeous. Widely regarded as the most beautiful of the Lepidoptera (the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths), the Madagascan sunset moth has a wingspan of up to 11cm and is black with green, blue and red iridescent markings. The remarkable thing about their colouration, however, is that it isn’t due to pigmentation. The wings actually have ribbon-like scales that act like a prism, breaking up light into the vibrant colours.
Is it brainy? The sunset moth is usually the cover model for books on butterflies and moths, so you know it’s stunningly beautiful. But at the end of the day, it’s still a fly into the candle, or bump into the glass pane rather than flying through the massive open window, dumb moth.
BEAUTIFUL AND BRAINY
Is it beautiful? Unfortunately, the spelling bee spends too much time studying and reading to ever look as pretty as a butterfly. Still, it’s cuter than most bugs.
Is it brainy? Ask any seven-year-old: it’s the smartest of all insects!
All joking aside, honey bees are remarkably intelligent, with the ability to count items, categorise things on a basic level, understand ‘same’ and ‘different’ and tell the difference between symmetrical and asymmetrical objects.
Malaysian orchid mantis:
Is it beautiful? This unusual-looking insect actually resembles a black ant as a young nymph. With each succesive moult, it begins to look more and more like the flowers it lives on. As an adult, it is either white or bright pink, with a greenish tinge, and it looks like a collection of flower petals. Simply stunning.
Is it brainy? Well, it is a predator, so it has to be smarter than its prey to survive. Still, most people admire mantises as much for their amazing camouflage and prayful poses as for their predatory cunning. It’s pretty brainy, but not remarkably so.
UGLY AND BRAINY
Is it beautiful? I think we all can agree that spiders are ugly. Too many legs sticking out at odd angles, scurrying at alarming rates, liquifying the insides of their prey and sucking them out through little holes… Spiders may be necessary, but they aren’t lovely.
Is it brainy? The wolf spider is probably the smartest of all spiders because generally it is a more ‘active’ predator. Most wolf spiders don’t spin webs, so instead of sitting and waiting for insects to get stuck in their randomly placed traps, they have to actually hunt out their prey.
Is it beautiful? Amongst the most common of rats, the brown rat can thrive pretty much anywhere humans live. Since brown rats have been living on humanity’s refuse for centuries, our repulsion is bourne out of their being gross – rather than conventionally ugly – but still, ew.
Is it brainy? Despite its gross reputation, the brown rat is incredibly clever. Selective breeding of the brown rat produced both the laboratory rat and the pet rat, both of which are notable for their intelligence. A 2007 study even showed that brown rats have metacognition – the ability to think about what they know and what they don’t know – which had been thought unique to humans and some advanced primates.
UGLY AND DUMB
Is it beautiful? Um, no. It looks like a gigantic fly and leaves behind a massive shell clinging tenaciously to whatever it happened to moult on. Some people find the cicada song relaxing, yet many others find it distracting, as it can reach up to 120 decibels – which is one of the loudest insect-produced songs. It could theoretically deafen a human, if the cicada sang right next to the person’s ear.
Is it brainy? Since ancient times the cicada has represented laziness and nonchalance, even appearing in French version of Aesop’s tale of the ants and the grasshopper. In it, the cicada is the insect lazing away in the summer afternoons whilst the ants prespare for winter. So, in short, it is not renowned for its brains.
Is it beautiful? These annoying little creatures may not be world renowned, but where they are found, they are infamous. They are part of the march fly family, and if you’re wondering why they’re called lovebugs, it’s because they spend their entire adult lives hooked together, copulating. The mating pair attach at the rear of their abdomens and stay that way until the female lays the eggs – despite the fact that the male dies immediately after they mate!
Is it brainy? In a word, no. In late spring and again in late summer, thousands of them swarm around Central America and the southeastern United States for almost a month. Like the cicada, it seems their main form of self-defence is to be so numerous when they emerge that predators get sick of eating them. Which is not exactly the most intellectually taxing stratetgy.