Monday, July 18, 2016

Locusts Inspire more than the Latest Painting

You may have noticed a headline in Sunday’s paper that blew your mind the way it did mine. “Researchers think bugs could help find bombs,” News-Press, FL July 17, 2016.

Of course, the article didn’t mention just any old insect. The “bug” in question is a locust, long-held to be an enemy of man and is known to have destroyed thousands of acres of crops in a matter of hours or days resulting in famines worldwide.

The fascinating article noted that “Locust antennae act as a nose, with sensors more complex than any clinical sensor an engineer could make” (Oh, the wisdom and knowledge of God!) “A group of researchers at Washington University hopes to hijack that sense of smell using bioengineering to create the ultimate smelling machine.” If you ask me, bioengineering is the next greatest go-to career.

What’s the big deal? “First researchers will implant sensors in locust brains to understand neural activity when the bugs smell different things. They’ll use algorithm to interpret brain patterns, allowing them to decode what the locusts smell.

“Raman, head researcher on the project, has found that locusts can quickly be trained to recognize different scents. Taking a page from Pavlov, Raman and his team hit locusts with a puff of a smell, and then reward them with a grass pellet. Within five or six trials, a locust learns to associate that specific smell with food.”

Fair game, I suppose since people also eat locusts and other insects. Yum! Not for me. I saw silkworms roasted and eaten when I was in Korea. That seems tame now that I think of people munching on a large crunchy grasshopper or locust.

Currently a tiny backpack is in a prototype stage and the energy is powered by the locusts’ own movements. Even steering the locusts has been successfully tested, but researchers are trying to figure out which is more effective: “steering the locusts toward a potential threat or allowing them to sniff it out themselves. For now, the focus is on the technology.”

This whole thing reminds me of an old carnival act called the “Flea Circus.” Here tiny fleas are taught to play on minuscule equipment. The show is then viewed via magnification. Is the show a mirage of trickery or are the fleas actually trained? You’d have to ask the trainer. At any rate, people have always been intrigued by the natural world and the miraculous creations that abound in the universe.

“In Chinese “cricket” culture, the cricket-related business is highly seasonal. Trapping crickets in the fields peaks in August and extends into September. 

The crickets soon end up at the markets of Shanghai and other major cities. Cricket fighting season extends until the end of autumn, overlapping with the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day

Chinese breeders are striving to make cricket fighting a year-round pastime, but the seasonal tradition prevails.”

Below is a link to Wikipedia if you want to learn more about having a cricket for a pet.

There is an amazing array of artwork online that is inspired by locusts. Here is one by Katie Hoffman called “Locusts and Honey” that is both representational and abstract.

If you would like to see more of Hoffman’s unusual work go to Katie Hoffman's Web Address

More artwork using locusts as part of a theme is shown below.

Moving on to today’s technology, I’ve noticed that computer generated artwork seems to be more popular than traditional artwork and sells at a cheaper price. This future trend still requires the skill of an artist, but the materials and the end product are much different than the nuts and bolts of stinky turps and paints of the past. Will technology supersede and outpace the old style of doing business in the art world? 

Many said this about libraries when Kindle came along, but Public Libraries have actually incorporated this new technology into their game plan. Today they are busier than ever because society continues to crave information and entertainment.

How will you adapt your artistic repertoire into this new world? Many older artists are not even computer literate. I get asked to help others build an artist’s web site or help them learn how to photograph and upload their paintings (for free, of course!). I not only can’t spread myself that thin, but I find it almost impossible to teach these “old dog’s new tricks.” They simply can’t grasp the technology, and they forget our first lesson as soon as they leave requiring follow up calls.

The only way to be successful in the future is to keep up with the latest and greatest and learn how to bend your skills to take advantage of what’s trending. Good luck!

Here is the best web side to differentiate between a locust, a grasshopper, a katydid, and a cricket:  Locust Grasshopper Cricket Katydid

And thanks to the Agriculture department and .gov:

Locusts and grasshoppers are the same in appearance - how they differ is largely in their behavior. Locusts can exist in two different behavioral states (solitary and gregarious) whereas grasshoppers generally do not. When the population density is low, locusts behave as individuals, much like