How the Beetle Got His Handles

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.

THIS, O Best Beloved, is a picture of the Beetle with his Most Golden handles, which he squeezed out of his back by holding his breath so hard that he thought he would Burst and pushing and pushing and pushing. I have numbered the pictures because that is what Scientists do, and on Picture Number 2 I have put a white arrow to show you where the handles are, in case you can’t quite make them out. You might think they don’t look much like handles, but if you were a Termite you would be Most Happy to find something that fitted so nicely to your bitey and snappy mandibles. You can see this in the Third Picture.

THIS, O Best Beloved, is a Tiny Picture of the Beetle rolling up and showing a Termite his Most Shiny golden handles, which he had squeezed out by holding his breath so hard he thought the would burst.

THIS is a picture of a biteful and fractious Termite picking up the Beetle by his Most Golden handles and taking him over to a pile of pomegranates and gingerplants, roses and cannas, loquats and lillies. I haven’t been able to show all the foodstore as there isn’t enough space, but you can imagine it all, just off to the left. And of course, O Best Beloved, I had to draw it all in the light, so that you could see what was happening, although all this would happen deep in the dark in the shadow of the roots of the great Camphor-Tree where there is no light, only smell and touch.

* 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

45 Comments

  1. Dominic
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    That is AMAZING! Natural selection wins again.

  2. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Ha! A great post, and a felicitous combination of biology and literature!

  3. TrineBM
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Kipling … and a little Carroll maybe. A bit of Wonderland there is in this pretty story.
    Thank you :-)

  4. Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Quite interesting

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    Just so story!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Huff and puff enough, and maybe you will get what the beetle did: a grip.

  6. gbjames
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    sub

    • jimroberts
      Posted November 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      +sub

  7. Granny Sue
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Love it! I’ll read this to my Grandchildren.

  8. Occam
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Absolutely fabulous!

    This kind of illustrated story would be one reason to cherish grandchildren. (The other being that you can hand them back at the end of the day.)

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    A story heavenly immortalized by the shining Beetle-guise.

  10. Notagod
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Even when it comes to flowery stories christianity is subjugated by science. Thanks Matthew!

  11. Posted November 20, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Methinks somebody needs to find an illustrator who would be amenable to a collaboration on a children’s book.

    Methinks this needs to happen, like, right now.

    b&

  12. Posted November 20, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    A wonderful job Matthew.
    Thank you for the smile!

  13. gravityfly
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Great post!

  14. Charles Jones
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    That was an AWESOME telling of this tale of evolution! Very impressive!

  15. NoAstronomer
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    What a great way to start a Tuesday morning!

    Mike.

  16. lkr
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    how the beetles got their handles..

    This bag of tricks works so well that all kinds of unrelated beetles have gone to it.

    Mostly tropical, but across much of Europe and North America, we have species of the subfamily Clavigerinae of the family Pselaphidae [actually a segregate of the megadiverse rove beetles]. They are also brood parasites, mostly of the common ant Lasius flavus, and sport both tasty secretions and knob-like antennae that the ants use to tote them around. Here’s a link to a picture of Adranes, the common local representative of the group. http://myrmecos.net/insects/Adranes3.html

  17. Posted November 20, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    This story is enchanting in all the right ways. Thank you!

  18. Mateus
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Great post Matthew. Thanks!

  19. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    This same brilliant strategy has been employed by human politicians for decades.

    They merely stuff one-hundred dollar bills into both ears, and are often carried immediately into comfy seats in the U.S. Congress.

  20. Posted November 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Make this storytelling a regular thing. Do it!

  21. Marella
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Very beautiful.

  22. tardis_blue
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Ben–publish!! I read it out loud to my nearly 9 year old, and he loved it! That it’s true makes it even cooler.

  23. JBlilie
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful Matthew. Seriously brings back childhood memories.

    Next Just-So assignment: The Invention of Sex!

  24. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Sounds awfully Lamarcian.

    –o–

    Eeeeeeeeeehhhh! Teensy, tiny beetle!

  25. Posted November 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    “I have numbered the pictures because that is what Scientists do,”

    I think this is what made me smile the most, apart from “twiggly-twirly-wirly antennae”, which is a technical term that we do not see enough of in this day and age.

  26. Tim Harris
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    This is great fun – really well-written.

  27. macromite
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Sounds a bit Lamarckian to me, but there are some ant-associated mites in the genus Trachyuropoda with a similar-looking ‘handle’ on their dorsal shield. Actually, there is at least one species associated with termites and I wonder what that looks like.

  28. guilherme21msa
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Actually, some beetles had mutations on their genes that made it easier for Termites to hold’em, and these beetles were carried by ‘em Termites and had a significant advantage in feeding and reproducing, which made the mutation that made the beetles easier to be carried, be passed on to the next generations more frequently and become more common, so that over many generations the mutations that made the beetles easier to be carried acummulated and became predominant.

    Occasionally, however, some beetles have mutations that eliminate their handles, but those beetles are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to reproduction and feeding and their mutations are not passed on as frequently and become ever so rare.

  29. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve always loved The Elephant’s Child, but it was only when reading it to my children that I realised quite how much spanking there was in it. Some things have changed for the better, and not only for the beetles.
    None of the other Just-So Stories is nearly as good; Kipling was a weird dude, observant and blind, poetic and tone-deaf by turns.

  30. Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    The best Just-so Story ever. Thanks.

  31. Posted November 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Funny post and awesome beetle pictures! Thanks for sharing. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  32. Posted November 24, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    im frightened by the beetle… but great post… :)

  33. Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Congrats on being freshly pressed! This was a wondeful read. You really should consider the children’s book idea.

  34. chrisknox155
    Posted November 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Great blogs.

  35. Posted November 24, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Huh? Am I the only person who absolutely does not see how evolution could not possibly be proven through this? Well, it looked fun to write though.

  36. Posted November 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    This is a fun story! It seems silly to me that one would have to write a book to “prove” evolution. Isn’t it time for this debate to be over? As a Christian, I happen to think that God creating the world is awesome. But if you told me that God came up w/ a plan whereby creation continues to create and evolve — and humans get to be a part of that creativity (hence this lovely story) — well, I’m even more impressed by this “God who cannot be proven!” Thanks for the story (and for channeling Mr. Kipling for us) and congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

  37. Posted November 25, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  38. Posted November 25, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Delighted and charmed with science and prose. Thank you.

  39. Posted November 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on gottopickapocketortwo and commented:
    Fabulous post about beetles using evolution to adapt to their environment and maximize their survival.

  40. Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I think there are a lot more dimensions to this topic as well! Congrats on FP!

  41. Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Wondrous interweaving of science and literature. A marvelous post. Thanks for this.

  42. Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Creepy.

  43. Posted November 27, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Very cool post which tells a wonderful tale. Thanks for this. Congrats on a well-deserved FP!


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] 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 … How the Beetle Got His Handles « Why Evolution Is True [...]

  2. [...] The beetle retracted all its legs as soon as it was touched, and then the termite gripped the handle on its back in its [...]

  3. [...] if you haven’t seen it already, you have got to check out this new beetle — its got a love handle! (Original science by: Maruyama, M. 2012. A new genus and species of [...]

  4. [...] Rudyard Kipling’s How The Beetle Got Its Handles [...]

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