Meganeura and Our Possible Hallucinations of "Reality"

(Note: the following is an edited and enlarged version of some material I originally wrote in an e-mail to the Rhetorical Theory class Listserv in 1998-9.--Max Standridge)

There is yet another possible scenario to the "abduction" experience that I think is worth at least considering. I'm only laying out scenarios here, not necessarily endorsing any one of them.

Millions of years ago--over 300 million, to be more accurate--there was a gigantic "insect" called "Meganeura," today by scientists. It had a two to four foot winspread and appeared a great deal like our present-day dragonfly and its cousin the ant lion in the adult stage.

However, there are odds and ends about Meganeura that have made some scientists doubtful that it is the ancestor of modern insects like the dragonfly. There are odds and ends in the skeletal structure, the sheer size and hints that it didn't breathe in the same way.

At the same time, questions have been raised about the nature of how dragonflies developed. Their larvae, for example, seem almost too intelligent, especially in species such as the "ant lion"--whose young build traps for ants and who also even communicate via "writing" in the soil to their parents and other adult ant lions flying overhead, so that they'll know whether the soil works for laying eggs successfully.

Another thing about dragonflies is their ability to fly at speeds too fast for a human being to sustain unprotected. They can fly up to 70 mph--they've been clocked at that fast. And, at those speeds, they can do dips and turns on a dime.

Scientists are just skeptical, some of them, that that could just have evolved that way.

What am I saying? That I don't believe in evolution? Not really--I feel fairly sure that most species on earth are the products of some version or other of the natural selection process. But dragonflies are weird. As proof, I cite here, in its entirety, an article by Judy Manning for the Audubon Society:

DRAGONFLY

by Judi Manning

Dragonflies have always intrigued me. As a youngster, when the fish were not biting, the dragonflies would be there to entertain me as they sat on the fish pole, on my knee, or on my arm. The dragonfly is not a fly and is named for its fierce jaws. In the Carboniferous period, over 300 million years ago, before dinosaurs roamed the earth, the dragonfly inhabited Earth. The oldest dragonfly specimen is a fossilized wing found in a coal field in England. The largest known dragonfly was called Meganeura, because it had a wingspan from tip to tip of 24"! This dragonfly was one of the first insects to fly and was one of the largest insects known to exist!

Today, there are over 5,000 identified species; 450 in No. America. The largest dragonfly is found in South America and has a wingspan of just over 7 inches.

Dragonflies hold their wings two different ways: extended laterally when at rest "heavy bodied dragonfly" Anisoptera [true dragonfly] or those that fold their wings together above their back as in the "slender damselflies" ( Zygoptera ). They have two sets of wings and can move each set in a different direction. When the front wings go up, the back wings go down. These wings also enable them to hover, fly backward, turn around quickly in mid-air and land in an instant. The dragonfly beats its wings 20-30 times per second.

These large, slender insects, typically 1" long, have evolved as specialized hunters. They depend on their eyes for hunting food and can focus on objects 20 feet away. The eyes are enormous composed of two sections: one looks up for danger; one looks down for prey. Each eye is made up of up to 28,000 lenses which touch or nearly touch at the top of the large head. These eyes allow it to see better than any other insect. Always hunting for food, they scoop their prey into a basket formed by their spiny outspread legs while in flight. It then eats its prey by ripping pieces off and chewing them while flying.

The dragonfly eats up to 600 insects a day. Other than catching food \par }{\plain with its legs, it can only use them to cling to objects such as twigs \par }{\plain and grasses while resting. It cannot walk. Dragonflies, a/k/a darning \par }{\plain flies, do not bite and cannot "sew anything". They are sometimes called mosquito hawk because they eat so many mosquitoes. They also eat gnats and flies.

The male of some species stake out a territory for one hour to several days and defend it from all other males, mating with every female that enters its territory. They mate in the air forming a wheel pattern. The eggs of some species are laid directly into the water laying several thousand eggs per episode. In some species, both the male and female become submerged to lay the eggs. Some species lay their eggs inside a plant or in the mud on the bank of the water laying approx. 100 eggs a day. Each egg hatches into a squat, dingy brown nymph with six walking legs, called a naiad (water nymph) which is predaceous. The nymph hides under leaves, sticks, stones or under the sand with only its eyes showing. The nymph does not chase its prey; it just waits for the prey to come close. It is sometimes several weeks between meals. To capture its prey, its hinged bottom lip shoots out and it grasps the prey with its powerful pinchers located at the outer edge of the lips. After it is finished eating, the lip is folded back and a portion of it covers the naiad's face, like a mask. Its dinner menu includes tadpoles, small fish, mosquito larva , other dragonfly nymphs, and water bugs, devouring its own weight at one sitting.

The nymph breathes by sucking water into a special gill chamber in its hind quarters. After enough oxygen has been absorbed, the water is shot back out so it does not have to come up for air like most pond insects. It also forcefully shoots this water from its anus to escape predators in fast jet propulsion fashion.

The skin is molted as it grows. One evening up to five years later, on its final molt, it crawls out of the water and attaches itself to a twig. Its body begins to swell and the skin splits. Up to four hours later, it stretches out its wings and pumps blood into them, making them stiff and strong. The sun dries and hardens the dragonfly's body and wings. Up to one month later, the bodies reach the maximum colors of electric blue, blood red or acid green. The wings look like hundreds of diamonds in the sunshine. After such a long wait as a nymph, an adult dragonfly only lives for three months. Dragonflies are studied by ecologists to determine changes in the environment because they are at the top of their food chain at both stages of their life.

The US Air Force has spent thousands of dollars trying to understand their 60 MPH speeds and lightning stops and starts and the instant right-angle turns} If you want to see some giant (10 foot dragonflies), take a trip to the New York State Museum before December 29, where they have a giant robotics model display. The mechanized creatures include a praying mantis, beetle and a carpenter ant. You can get more information from The Dragonfly Society of the Americas at http://www.dragonfly.org. They have many links to other web sites lots of interesting info on the life and times of dragonflies.

References:

Dragonfly, Microsoft Encarta, 1993

"Dragon Flies." Deborah Churchman,Ranger Rick, 5/93. 16-19

"Insects Get Larger Than Life to Show Their Big Role," Genaro C. Armas, GR Press 8/4/96

"Lord of the Dragonflies," David Van Biema, Life, Feb, 1993. 62-4.

"Zoom Along, Dragonfly," Judy Ann Harvey, Cricket, July, 1994.35-7

The Audubon Society Field Guide to N.American Insects & Spiders 363

"The Life of Insects", V.B. Wigglesworth. "Double Life", The Economist, January 30, 1993

Insects: Hunters and Trappers, Ross E. Hutchins, Rand McNally

Dragonflies, by Terry Morse, 11/11/95, James Cook University

Copyright 1997 Owashtanong Islands Audubon Society. All rights

Back to OIAS Home Page

[end of Judy Manning's article]

Three hundred million years ago, Meganeura were everywhere. But they seemed to have somewhat different habits than dragonflies have today. Previous to Meganeura, the more primitive Trilobites had apparently become extinct, after they, too, had been everywhere.

Interestingly, when scientists first started studying the fossils of the Trilobites and the "early insects" they noted the areas where Meganeura and the modern dragonflies disconnected. (Ellis Owen, in his book Prehistoric Animals: the Extraordinary Story of Life Before Man(New York: Cathay, 1988. 30), tells us:

"Thick forests of the Upper Carboniferous deltas and swamps provided a perfect setting for insects. Although few species had developed by the end of this period [i.e., 350 million years ago--mcs], one in particular always figures in the Carboniferous forest scenes, Meganeura, an enormous winged insect similar to a modern dragonfly. Its wingspan was just less than 1 m. (3 and 1/4 feet) and the fast movement of the wings of this giant must have created a tremendous noise. It is not absolutely certain whether or not these giant insects were related to the true dragonflies[--emphasis added--mcs]...")

Scientists also noted traits in the trilobite that suggested it as a possible ancestor of Meganeura. Since it seemed a relatively "successful" species, perhaps, rather than becoming extinct, it gradually evolved into Meganeura, though without an easily-traceable fossil record (not totally impossible given that both were invertebrates).

The thing that makes this halfway credible, is that long gap in years between Meganeura and "modern" insects and the difference in skeletal traits. We're not just talking about a Sunday afternoon here--the gap between Meganeura and "regular" dragonflies alone is in the hundreds of millions of years.(Owen, above, puts Meganeura's first appearances at around 350 million years ago, in the Carboniferous Period; he cites examples of more modern-appearing versions of dragonflies that didn't appear until the Late Jurassic Period, one hundred-fifty to two hundred million years later.(Owen 58).

Modern insects seem to have an ancestor that came along after Meganeura, is the point. Recent fossil finds suggest this. If that is the case, whither Meganeura? That is, if "modern" dragonflies are only spin-offs, perhaps the "main" line of Meganeura evolved to a much higher level.

Given the fact that Meganeura would have had a 350 million year jump on us in development, could it be that it has evolved a god-like wisdom and perspective on this planet of ours? Could it have, millions of years ago, developed an advanced civilization, right here on Earth? Is it so advanced in its knowledge of us that it can manipulate us as it sees fit, making us genetically "blind" to it except at those times it wants us to see it?

Such a situation could help explain many of the characteristics of the "abduction" accounts. It could also explain the "lack of physical evidence" of such. Meganeura isn't ready for us to know about yet.

Did Meganeura create or preserve the modern dragonflies and the ant lions as pet objects of itself in its "original" form, much as we seek to preserve the lower primates? Are they the tip of the iceberg that might lead us to a better understanding of the whole series of events that put Meganeura at least 350 million years ahead of us in developing a civilization, an intelligence, a perspective on the world? Is Meganeura what people are encountering in the "abduction" experience, then?

Intriguingly, when one looks at the ancient concepts of "abduction" one doesn't often get the impression they are dealing with something that isn't native to earth. Fairies, centaurs, demi-gods, nymphs, satires, etc. were said to live on the earth and, in dozens of unrelated cultures, we variously said to "abduct" people. Likewise, God was said to have "stationed" various angels on the earth permanently.(See, for example, the Genesis angel with the "flaming sword" that guarded the approaches to Eden.)

There has also been some internal debate among students of dragonflies as to whether Meganeura had six legs or only four, with those that appeared to be the first two actually being "feelers" of an advanced order. Is this yet another tip of the iceberg of some monumental event in Earth's evolution that we, in our chauvinistic view, have failed to even imagine, much less comprehend? Such "feelers" could then have gradually evolved into more elaborate sensory organs, leaving a four-limbed Meganeura, not readily recognizable as a "six-legged bug."

Of course, our sense of "superiority" is offended. Could a "mere bug" have gotten that much of a jump on us? Three hundred million years. What kind of a perspective on things might they have formed?

In their secret cities under the ground, or under the ocean, what do they do, beyond the basics? Have they a rhetoric? You bet they do! They even allow their pet projections, the ant lion larvae, to use a primitive rhetoric. Undoubtedly, they've perfected rhetoric--not to mention the larger field of communications as a whole-- to a fine art.

What would be their perspective on rhetoric? Could it be that the ebb and flow of events and the sheer joy of high speed movement has pulled them a little further up on the scale of evolution, allowing them to look down on life, to rise above it, to describe it from the both the speed experience and the peak experience? When we find ourselves stretched to our utmost, our maximum level of accomplishment as a civlization, will we even approximate what they may have already done?

And, as individual rhetors, what might they have learned over those three hundred millions of years? They'd have certainly preserved their "pet projects", the ant lions, to not pollute the environment or to live at peace with the ecology. They'd have preserved them to show how well they fit in, and seem natural, even as they reveal "who" truly introduced writing--written communications in the sand--to the world, millions of years before human beings were even around.

What kind of a mind would we be dealing with here? Is it a hive mind, like that of the bees that I refer to in "Insectivorous" in Tim, George Bush and Me? (Go to "Insectivorous?"). When one moves a group of flowers a consistent five feet further from a beehive over a period of two or three days, the bees will at first miss it, but, shortly, will have figured out where it will be the subsequent day and will be there waiting for the experimenter with the flowers--having, as a hive mind, already "figured out" what is going on and where the flowers will be. Individually, perhaps the Meganeura, too, are still not apparently as intelligent as they actually are as a group. Perhaps it is that intersubjective, group experience that is so powerful in their development.

Will we ever encounter Meganeura? Will they ever feel we're far enough along to show us their secret cities, their hidden civlization, except when we are in an altered state or a helpless state? Would they ever feel we are advanced enough, clean enough as individuals, to associate with us?

What could such a (hypothetically) advanced creature tell us about philosophical concepts from the hive mind perspective? Sharing of various bits of information from thousands of different sources could have allowed them to accumulate the wisdom of the ages, in amalgamated form, much, much sooner than we can. They've also the ability to tap into such amalgamated wisdom--something we are only now even beginning to talk about, when we speak of the "intersubjectivity" of reality and of the rhetorical experience, the subjectivity and relativity of knowledge, the limited perspective of each individual as opposed to the group of individuals, the relatively greater meaning of the shared knowledge and event rather than the unshared one.

It's one other possible "abduction" scenario. Perhaps we need to open our "higher eyes" to this kind of wisdom and learn to listen for it. One way to "listen", might be to look at the natural history of our planet. Millions of years before the Egyptians started using papyrus, indeed, millions of years before Man even appeared on earth, wasps were making paper. Millions of years before the first hieroglyphics, those ant lion larvae, so closely related to Meganeura at the adult stage, were writing in the soil. Rhetoric was being produced-- writing-- not by us, not by aliens, but by beings right here on this earth. Could it be, then, that we are blocking them out, perhaps not by choice, and not noticing things that would lead us to greater wisdom if we could learn to look at and listen to Meganeura's perspective?

How--in what other ways-- might we "listen" to, or perceive, Meganeura's presence around us? Maybe we need to wonder. 300 million years could have been quite a head start for such a species, over us.

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