All of nature is centered on the premise of “survival of the fittest”. As I like to tell my students, the struggle is real.
I didn’t start out my adult life as a Biology teacher. I kind of went that direction after doing a variety of jobs in the wildlife management arena. One of the big take-away lessons I got from these experiences was despite the fact that we were meddling with nature when we studied it, nature just needs to do “it’s own thing” sometimes. Often that “thing” isn’t very pleasant.
I will occasionally show my students documentaries that cover the concepts we are learning. Some of their favorites are the ones where predator-prey interactions take place. That’s science-speak for gory animal death scenes. It’s a bit of a crack-up watching how the kids will take sides and either cheer for the prey to get away, or the predator to make the kill.
Almost always, though, the question comes up as to why the people making the documentary didn’t intervene. Some of these videos show young animals getting lost or predators that could have easily been scared off. I have to remind my students that this is the way of life, and that this is how it is supposed to work. As we learn more about the relationships that exist between living things, they begin to see that it becomes important for there to be a balance.
Practicing what you preach isn’t always easy, though. The other day, I went to check on something I had seen developing a while back. It was a praying-mantis egg case. For the longest time I didn’t know what these things were. I would see them on the sides of trees, on fence boards, even on walls. They didn’t seem to cause any harm, so I would leave them alone. I finally found out what they were, and since praying mantises are beneficial creatures for the garden, I am happy to see them!
So you can imagine how my joy at seeing baby mantises outside the case turned once I realized that they were all dead. The case had been made on a block wall, and block walls tend to invite another predator: spiders. A spider (or spiders) had made it’s web right along the edge of the egg case and so as the babies came out, they got ensnared. The irony was that it looked like the spider that made the web was dead, itself, but since the web was still there it could trap the little insects, anyway.
Now what? Do I remove the web and save the mantises, or do I do what the photographers do and just let it be up to nature to do it’s own “thing”? I’m a biologist. I walked away. But not until after I got some pictures.