Most spiders don’t take the time to realize how intimidating the stone insect is when they come across it. They see that its height resembles that of a grasshopper, and so they focus on the attack. Many, likely, assume they’re in for an easy kill and a treat of a dinner.
I guess I should be happy that spider populations have been steadily decreasing. No more rolled up newspapers for me.
I learned about these bugs through an old documentary, found in my dad’s box after he died. It was the kind of forgotten film you see in B-rated movies, explaining how the world went to shit and offering clues on how to save it. I wasted no time in finding an old reel projector to play back the video.
As the title screen fades to a pristine lab with a garishly lit table, the bearded scientist on camera presents a wolf spider in a slippery mixing bowl. It’s sitting next to a single Stone Insect. I was immediately astonished by the size, shape, and number of legs of this bug. It was like a cousin of the common wolf spider, but every dimension was amplified.
It clearly wasn’t an arachnid. Instead of eight legs, it had at least twelve, but they twitched in a hairy way that made them hard to count. I couldn’t focus for long before the two insects suddenly died. They crumpled and faded before my eyes.
It wasn’t a quick passing, like a drift into subconsciousness. It was a dissolution.
It was what my childhood-self imagined would slowly happen to my skin if bit by a brown recluse.
It was what my scientist-self imagined would happen to me if I spilled a drop of colorless, scentless hydrofluoric acid.
Without explanation and after a sudden skip in the film, the bearded scientist smooths his lab coat before introducing enclosures of individually sequestered stone insects.
They don’t hide as we approach. They don’t scatter. Even so, they seem quite aware of the camera’s gaze. Their bulging eyes track the lens. Two insects in adjacent enclosures turn to each other and tap on the glass methodically.
Tum, tum, tum. Ta ta. Tum te ta tum…
The complexity of the stamping patterns of the stone insect is apparent. Like the language of dancing honey bees, it’s no secret that the steps have meaning.
Tum ta te…
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be advantageous for such a large insect to waste energy stomping.
Ta to tum…
For now, the bearded man explains, we scientists can only differentiate between male and female stone insects by the patterns broadcast during mating. No modern computer has deciphered any further logic.
The tapping stops. The insects look to the bearded man.
The film reel reaches its end. The flicking film echoes a stark to tum, to tum.
I wake up and glance around the room. My dreams are either telling me the world is going to end in a spider-y death, or I should have been an entomologist.