By Rudyard Kipling*
Hear, attend and listen, O my Best Beloved, for this story – a Most New and Most Wonderful Story – tells of the most magnificent power of Natural Selection.
Long ago, in the High and Far-off Times, the Beetle lived near the Nest of the Termites, in the shadow of the Camphor-Tree. This was not a happy arrangement, as the Termites, O Best Beloved, with their High Falutin’ ways and most strong Sense of Entitlement even though they are nothing more than clever cockroaches, are the most biteful and fractious of creatures, happy to snip and snap at any passing Beetle, or indeed any animal that crosses their path.
But although the Termites would snip and snap at the Beetle whenever they could, he would not move his home from near their nest under the Camphor-Tree, for from the nest floated the most glorious scents, the smell of food from far-away fields – pomegranates and gingerplants, roses and cannas, loquats and lillies. And the Beetle, with his ’satiable greed, would sit on a small hillock nearby and twitch his most twiggly-twirly-wirly antennae and imagine feasting on the rich store deep within the termite nest.
Every time the Beetle asked the Termites to share their wondrous storehouse, they would snip and snap at him and grab his twiggly-twirly-wirly antennae and pull and pull and pull and then spank him hard until he ran away. Decidedly, O Best Beloved, the Termites are the most selfish and unsociable and grumpy of animals.
One day, after being spanked particularly hard by a most particularly selfish and unsociable and grumpy group of termites, the Beetle noticed a most Strange Smell coming from his feet. He no longer smelt of Beetle, but instead carried the most delicious odours of the termite nest – the smells of pomegranates and gingerplants, roses and cannas, loquats and lillies, which had rubbed off onto him while he was being spanked and having his twiggly-twirly-wirly antennae and pulled and pulled and pulled.
And the next time the Beetle met the Termites, they just let him pass by and walk deep into their storehouses, for he smelt just like One of Them. And that, O Best Beloved, is how the Beetle got the smell of the Termite and was able to feast on the Termites’ storehouse.
But the Beetle was a lazy animal who soon began to get Ideas Above his Station, and while he was living and feast on the storehouses of the grumpy and bitey Termites, he decided that no only should the Termites provide him with pomegranates and gingerplants, roses and cannas, loquats and lillies, they should also carry him about. So he held his breath so hard that he thought he would Burst and pushed and pushed and pushed until two small handles appeared on his back, Most Golden like the morning sun (you can see this in the First Picture).
And the next time the Beetle met a Termite, he pushed the handles towards the Termite (you can see this in the Second Picture), which most obligingly picked up the Beetle and carried him over to the pomegranates and gingerplants, thinking it was a Baby Termite that was most ’mazingly suitably provided with handles, just right for its bitey and snappy mandibles (you can see this in the Third Picture).
And that, O Best Beloved, is how the Beetle got his Handles.
* As told to Matthew Cobb
Maruyama, M. 2012. A new genus and species of flightless, microphthalmic Corythoderini (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Aphodiinae) from Cambodia, associated with Macrotermes termites. Zootaxa 3555:83-88.
h/t @james_gilbert and @TheAtavism and Rudyard Kipling