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Sunday, May 26, 2013

A True Story with a Moral

la cuckaracha
I'm no Aesop (because he is dead and I'm not) but I love interesting tales with a moral.

When I was about four or five years old, my favorite aunt would babysit my sister and me every once in a while. We loved her to death because she was always so much fun... and spoiled us the way kids love to be spoiled. Aunt Anna Banana as we lovingly called her, had a 78 r.p.m. record (yes, that long ago) with a delightful Spanish song, La Cuckaracha, that always triggered a little dance around the room by all of us. It goes something like this:

La cuckaracha, la cuckaracha
Ya no puede caminar...

Now I learn the English translation:

The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can't go traveling...

According to Yahoo, "you're thinking: Mexicans are strange. But there's more going on here than meets the eye. "La Cucaracha" is the Spanish equivalent of "Yankee Doodle"--a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment. The origins of the song are obscure, but apparently it's pretty old. Some verses... refer to the Moorish wars in Spain, which concluded with the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. (Obviously 1492 was a big year for Ferdinand and Isabella on a number of fronts.) Probably the song itself doesn't go back that far, but in an 1818 book, according to one source, the Mexican writer Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi claimed the song was brought to Mexico from Spain by a captain of marines."

So I wondered why such an ugly, reviled bug, the cockroach, would trigger such inspiration. Well, first, it is a great tune... lively and "dance triggering." And like Yankee Doodle, it's fun to sing.

Well, the lowly, yuckky cockroach has a few very admirable traits.
  • Most cockroaches are not pests... of the more that 4,000 species all over the earth, only about 40 are considered pests... like in your kitchen.
  • The little buggers will eat just about anything and can survive for 6 weeks or more without food... and for weeks without their heads
  • They are tough... they have survived for 350 million years (not counting this past week), through ice ages, floods and meteors, and could be the last remaining survivors if everything else (including us) on earth was wiped out.
  • They like to be touched, even though they haven't quite got that "sex appeal" for everyone. That's why they make good pets. So if you have no room for a dog, this could be your answer.
  • Cockroaches are FAST! They can jump-start in just 8.2 milliseconds after sensing a puff of air, can sprint at 80 centimeters per second on six legs and turn on a dime while in full stride.
  • They can be BIG... some 4 inches long with wingspans of 7 inches, though not in my kitchen, thank goodness.
  • And, perhaps most astonishing, they can be conditioned... like Pavlov's dogs! They actually drool when their antennae sense something savory.
Maybe then, that's why this new discovery shouldn't be so amazing. Cockroaches--which are drawn to sugar for its nutritious glucose--have learned that sugar is used to draw them to poison bait. So they, through evolutionary conditioning, have learned to avoid the very sweetness that is now associated with poison. And that has the cockroach poison makers looking hard for a suitable substitute.

So what's the big deal? I don't know... just thought this was pretty fascinating. I guess I was conditioned to like cockroach lore by Aunt Anna Banana way back when.

THE MORAL: If humans could be smarter than the cockroach, maybe we could learn to like sugar just a little less. Couldn't hurt. Cockroaches have an enviable survival record. That part about living without our heads though... that has to go.

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