Sugar Freaks on Planet Earth

by Amy Martin (c)

A sweet tooth is universal. If aliens ever land, I’m sure they’ll head straight to the sugar cane fields of Brazil. From the grizzly bear that raids the bee hive, to the microbes in my garden soil that get delirious over dried molasses, planet Earth is full of sweet freaks.

Hackberry emperors are the beer drinkers of butterflies, tanking up on rotting fruit and tree sap rather than the fine wine nectar of flowers. It looks like a tiny flying swatch of Persian rug, intricately patterned in brown, black and tan. Macho butterfly. Ants are the top sugar fiends of bugs, so hooked on sugar that some breeds will farm aphids, a soft white bug, and milk them for a sticky sweet secretion called honeydew, a nice word for aphid poo.

Down on our shady bottomlands, the sugar freaks have set up a bar district. The leaves of lean 10-foot water ash trees are all curled up and puckered, each encasing a small aphid colony. Hackberry emperors and their butterfly buddies careen about the trees, staggering from branch to branch, then go quiescent in stupor. An occasional bee tries to crash the party, June bugs dopily wonder what’s up. The bartender ants go briskly about their business, their slops and slip-ups the happy feasting of drunken flying bugs.

late June 2007