55. Chaoboridae – metaphor

When is a mosquito not a mosquito? This fly in the family Chaoboridae, also known as a phantom midge, has the bottle-brush antennae you would expect to see on a mosquito (family Culicidae), but it lacks piercing mouthparts and so is not worth swatting away, unlike its similar looking but blood-thirsty cousins. The larvae, are notable for being predatory of other small aquatic creatures, including mosquito larvae, and also for being transparent, hence the names of ghost larva and glassworms.

Having nothing much else to say about the family, I find myself musing that we too are transparent in our younger versions, our needs easily identifiable, our pleasures simple, although sometimes rapacious. As toddlers, a butterfly bouncing by is a delight to be followed and grinned and exclaimed at, a technicoloured instance to be shared, and then possibly to be caught and crushed at which point our grief is deeply felt and widely shared. Nothing is a secret, at least not for long. Every few years we go through a different developmental instar with different kinds of endearing characteristics, before inevitably the seasons turn and we spin a protective cocoon for those awkward teenage years. Being neither fish nor fowl we rail at the world from within our self-inflicted shell at the humiliation of dependency.

One fine year we emerge and take wing as gangly-legged but gloriously-differently constructed adults, our bodies reproductively ready even down to the sex pheromones and gender-attuned antennae. But we are also now less transparent than we were, our response to a butterfly more complicated, seeing it as a connection with nature, a metaphor for the soul, an instance of God’s perfection, a focus for meditation, a harbinger of spring, a named species with a biological backstory, an aesthetic arrangement of colour, evidence for evolution, a household intruder, a tick on a list, a shared experience. No-one can see through us any more, so they imagine indifference where we are really lost for words, empathy where we are merely being polite, ulterior vampire-like motives where we are really harmless nectar-feeders. We have a hard carapace but are also delicate. Just when you think you have someone pinned down they slip away, a phantom person.

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