Buggin’ out: Are You Smarter than a Tiger Moth?

There’s a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry jokes about the moon landing being the worst thing we’ve ever done, since every subsequent failure gets compared to it:

“They can put a man on the moon, but taste this coffee!”

Things would make much more sense, he argues, if we hadn’t done it:

“Did you taste this coffee? I’m not surprised they couldn’t put a man on the moon!”

What’s mankind’s next world-changing accomplishment? I sometimes wonder.

And “wonder” really is the operative word here — have we lost some of our childlike wonder for amazing things? Is it just a part of growing up that we lose it, and turn our attention inward to family, work, money, taxes? Every now and then the world has a way of smacking us in the face with something amazing, and reigniting that flame of wonder. For me, it was a recent article about a species of tiger moth that researchers have recently discovered has the ability to jam the sonar of its predator,  a bat species.

Wait a minute, what!?!

It’s miraculous enough to me that an animal could evolve sonar capabilities. But to learn that its prey also evolved the ability to jam its sonar is another miracle. As the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle once wrote, a miracle doesn’t cease to be miraculous simply because we see it ten, a hundred, or a thousand times. This tiger moth, with a brain 1/10th the size of a grain of rice, somehow learned to emit bursts of ultrasound to disrupt its predators chief mode of attack. Said Wake Forest University biologist Aaron Corcoran

This reveals that even a small moth can defeat the most sophisticated acoustic predator known.

There is a time for study and research; for meetings and planning; for writing grant proposals and contacting investors.

All of that is crucial work. But there is also a time to think big.  To dream.  To let ourselves be inspired by the miracles that are right next to us every day.

What’s our next major accomplishment going to be: curing cancer, time travel, exploring and colonizing Mars?

The tiger moth is my new “Seinfeldian” standard. If a moth can learn to jam sonar, we can still do great things. For my part, I’m working on a coffee table book. About coffee tables.

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