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The insects of Bali : A vanishing world
Friday, 7 February 2014

I have seen them with my own eyes, touched them with my own hands; as the night falls, little creatures most wonderful and numerous rise from the earth. Right here in Bali rice fields,thousands if not tens of thousands of fireflies, glittering in the muddy path, dancing with the wind.

A magical sight, and a sign for the farmers to retire contentedly assured that the earth is well, pulsating with life, even in the darkest of nights.

Especially during the dark nights,some might not be seen, but their call, their chorus, in layers of tones and multiple rhythmic circles, issurely the most wonderful orchestra of the natural world.

Those insects that are attracted to domestic illumination would somehow find their way into your homes,flying around your kitchen, falling into your cup of coffee, spoiling your food and, of course, the occasionalbite here and there, as a reminder that humans do share this earth with insects, and with many other creatures as well. `

But that sharing is not always on good terms, for most of us dislike insects, or at least do not care much for them, because we do not know anything about them.

So when we do not see them, we do not miss them, when we do not see them for years, we might even think that they have never existed.

And our children will only knowthem as images on a screen, on nature documentary films, or in someold tales, as ancient as the dinosaurs.

But I do remember them, becausenot so long ago, just a childhood ago,I was covered with yellow butterflies when walking down the grassyhills on the south coast of Bali.

I climbed trees to collect the giantbrown beetles (katulebo) then threwthem to the sky to see who could fly the highest. Or, with a stick, I priedout the even-bigger black beetles(beduda) out of their holes, usually from under a cow pat.

But I never knew what to dowhen the thorny and monstrous looking insects started to fly randomly crashing into everything.Then there was the most beautiful,fluorescent, rainbow-colored beetles (katibambung) that we all wanted to collect and keep, but becauseof their rarity we only ever managedto find a few dead ones.

These rainbow beetles died fromtoo much admiration and beingover-eagerly handled, in contrastto the ones we hated and killed byspraying them with pesticide. Thepresence of insects and other wildlife is an indicator of the earth’shealth.

They are one of the links in thechain of the ecosystem. So their demise is certainly a beacon of im-pending disharmony in the naturalworld.

Our world, where several species of animals become extinct,disappear forever, every day.

In Bali, the loss of habitat due toindustrial development, land clearing, urban sprawl, chemical pesticides and indiscriminate spraying may have wiped some of these species of insects out of existence too.

We might not feel it, not yet aware of something amiss, not seen that a linkhas been broken in the chain.We might have forgotten about these Hickering lives of night creatures, for our eyes have been captivated by the glittering light of electronics, and our ears only hear thesound of music from the iPod, bars,spas and restaurants.

Because life in Bali is not just pulsating but is now pounding, nightand day with the roar of road trafficand with the unstoppable hammering of economic progress, inevitablytreading over the insects’ world.

But I have seen them with my own eyes, creatures most wonderful, most numerous. Millions of fireflies, glittering in the landscape of Bali at night, dancing with the wind,accompanied by the orchestras of frogs, crickets, birds, and the chorus of all creatures great and small,mystical or other wise.

Not so long ago, just a short childhood ago, but I fear I could be thelast Balinese child to have seen suchmagic.

To prove me wrong, let’s go andtake our children out to the fields,to the bushes and our own back gardens and look out for those insects,the almost missing link in the chain.

They might still be there somewhere, clinging on for their existence. But in the meantime, while the children are glued to the computerscreen, urge them to look at these weird and wonderful creatures ont the website: www.baliwildlife.com, created by a keen insect lover and wildlife photographer, David Lowenthal.

Set up for educational purposes,the site hosts many photographic images as well as descriptions of wildlife existing in Bali today.

Ketut Yuliarsa a poet,lives in Ubud

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