Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ootheca and the Ancient Astronauts

This morning, I came across a curious object in the forest. It was a green-colored spongy ball the size of the palm of my hand. It was about as heavy as a paper rolled into a ball of the same size. There was some detritus - a leaf, a coupla pine nettles - lodged in this object that was closed from everywhere. Gentle wind blew this morning, and I deduced this had been carried to its present spot by that same wind through the night. Realizing that anything so fragile lying so bare on the forest floor (which was most likely an accidental occurence) will not last for long in the daylight hours, I carried the ball home.

My impulse, that this was an Ootheca - the cocoon sac that the Praying Mantis weaves and lays egg in, kinda like an incubation chamber - turned to be correct. The Mantids - the females, in this case - are industrious, artful spinners that build this colossal structure overnight from their spit. Meticulously, the female mantid would spit some, then lay an eggs, and wrap them neatly in more spit, to total about 100-200 eggs, that results in a ball the size of the mantid herself (comparing it to humans, it is akin to being in labor, building a house, then giving birth, all by oneself; but the distinctions make this a lesser worthwhile comparison).
Striking gold Ootheca felt special, since I have the Mantoidae in my mindae of late. My obsessiveness has resulted in a few GBs of nothing but extreme closeups of them in their nature, just lounging.

The Ootheca is a brilliant labyrinthine structure. The mantids indeed work very hard on something that offers an evolutionary closure. It is a very resilient structure, that can withstand winds and cold for months. The Mantids generally take 2-3 months for incubation. For something of that small a size, that is a long while. The while gets even longer, when temperature and moisture conditions are not appropriate. For this reason, predicting a mantid hatching is difficult, unless done in a controlled manner. This fact is put in intelligent use among insect/mantis breeder communities, who collect and keep the Ootheca in cold storage, and produce suitable conditions in a controlled environment to initiate the hatching. Yes, it will survive the period of unfavorable conditions, almost like plant seeds. It is a structure that seems to offer insights into how we can populate other worlds with the species of our own that can be frozen (in development), transported, and later made to "hatch".

Back home, when my guess was unconfirmed, I put my curiosity to the first person around, a village boy about 16 years old, Amit. He had seen it before. "It comes from the meteors at night," he said. It was surprising, since, firstly, there was an existing cultural explanation of an Ootheca, and secondly, because it connected to the outer space. I asked a senior villager, 75-year old DK, and his reply resonated with Amit's, "It is a fragment broken from the stars".
Then I hastened to ask a third village person around - a resident of another Himalayan region called Garhwal (aka Garhwal-is, as against the first two who were Kumaon-is), Vir. "It is the dropping of creatures living in distant stars," Vir said with confidence. It was happening to discover a cultural commonality, that had a connection to the outer space, and maybe even a keen insight into how life came to be on this planet.
That there is an understanding of space beyond Heaven and Hell, a un-earth-centric theory that talks of cosmic plularity, and that it exists as an understanding among the commoners, is thought fodder for me. The Ancient Astronaut theory also came to my mind, and this could offer some insight into how/why life started / was started.

I, for one, will welcome our new Mantid overlords.

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