I thought I’d done well with my simple premise: Ornithoptera croesus is the most beautiful insect in the world, backed up with that quote from Alfred Russel Wallace; you know the one:
“The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.”
I also produced the world’s simplest possible Power Point presentation of just one lone slide, and relied on my impassioned rhetoric. But I was defeated.
My competitors were:
Jeremy Thomas, President of the Royal Entomological Society, who proposed the mountain large blue butterfly, Maculinea rebeli, on account of its bizarre and complex life history as a cuckoo parasite in nests of a red ant;
Tim Cockerill, one-time Cambridge Zoologist, and billed on the poster as a ‘flea circus performer’, who espoused the dubious wonder of the human flea, Pulex irritans, and its history as one of the smaller money-making side-shows,
and Jake Snaddon, rainforest ecologist at Oxford’s Biodiversity Institute, who sang the praises of the daringly ocean-going sea-skater, Halobates micans, about which we know, er, virtually nothing actually.
The form of the discussion was to be a balloon debate, where an audience vote dictates which hapless victims are lobbed out of the balloon gondola. I’m afraid to report that birdwing and flea were the first to go. The two remaining finalists, (benefiting perhaps from some hidden Oxford home-ground advantage?) made last-minute pleas before the final vote ejected the sea-skater.
So, there you have it, apparently the best insect in the world is a rather dull blue butterfly with an unlikely and convoluted ecology involving subterranean parasitism and other, less than laudable, grubby behaviours. Harrumph.
But I’m ready for a rematch in 2013, when, rather than something straightforward and elegant, I shall be presenting an obscure nano-beetle with barely understood but obviously bizarre life style. It should be an easy walk-over.