October 13, 2019

How Insects Helped Create America

“he interconnection of the world is a wonder. Consider the United States Declaration of Independence, says Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, a conservation biologist. It was written with the help of a wasp.

In July, 1776, when Timothy Matlack, a clerk with stately penmanship, copied the bold resolution on parchment, he dipped his pen in ink derived from tannins inside galls, tiny pods or growths, formed on trees. Normally trees produce tannins, an astringent chemical, to help fight infection by invading bacteria. The sour tannins also discourage predators from eating a tree’s fruit. Opportunistic wasps land on trees and secrete chemicals that induce the tree to produce a gall. The wasps then use the galls to shelter their larvae until they hatch. Centuries ago, ingenious human chemists came along and discovered that tannins inside tree galls, mixed with iron sulfates and Arabic gum, produced an ink that penetrated paper and wasn’t easily washed away by moisture like previous inks derived from lamp soot.

“The fact that we have all these writings, drawings, and musical sheets—everything from Bedouin writing to Shakespeare to Beethoven symphonies—written in ink induced by a tiny wasp that most people have never seen and never thought of, is really quite amazing,” says Sverdrup-Thygeson.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Kurds have been staunch allies in America's struggle against ISIS. Without them, America would have paid a far steeper price in blood and treasure to defeat the brutal outfit. That's why President Trump's move to pull U.S. troops out of..."

"For the first time since President Richard Nixon refused to turn over the White House tapes, the United States is facing a genuine constitutional crisis. To be sure, Donald Trump had already created a crisis in the presidency by abusing the..."

"Every October for the past five years, Fat Bear Week has showcased some of the healthiest, hungriest, and chonkiest bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve, a four-million-acre expanse of wilderness in southern Alaska..."

"I sat on my childhood bed, surrounded by 52-year-old stuffed animals, with a smartphone lodged between my ear and shoulder. My father had died unexpectedly the day before, and I was jotting down notes as my rabbi back in Ohio described various..."

"In August, it was SoulCycle and Equinox. The month prior, Home Depot. Back in 2017, L.L.Bean. These are only a few of the companies to ignite the collective ire of progressive consumers over corporate ties to Trump. In the case of the boutique..."

"Movies like Gemini Man are usually ideal airplane viewing. Take a formulaic plot about spies and cloning, then add dialogue so predictable that getting interrupted by pilots’ announcements and turbulence and your seatmate’s need to get up and..."

"It’s still unclear whether Israel’s next election will be in four years or four months. But either way, if the center-right wants a better outcome, it needs to learn the lessons of September’s election. So here are two: First, while center-right..."

"Smart homes, bountiful oceans and casual sexism: the future as envisaged from 1967 ‘Yes, life will be richer, easier, healthier as space-age dreams come true.’ In 1967, the Ford Motor Company (then known as Philco-Ford) released the short film..."