Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Creature Features

Now that we've got your attention, more on this wonderful old Japanese cartoon of marching octopi later.


The first cicadas were spotted several weeks ago, a bit earlier than expected, more of them are showing up now, and they are expected to reach a noisy crescendo in June. We bring this up because - if you are unfamiliar - this year's cicada crop has lived (like its ancestors) underground for seventeen years. They're coming out to mate now, by the gazillions, and then we'll hear nothing of them for another seventeen years. When asked how the cicadas know it's time to come out, entomologists shrug their collective shoulders and say "Beats me." They are noisy, sounding like a million people shaking rattles, but harmless, so if you run into an army of cicadas, don't worry. Just gaze in wonder that they do all that without a clock. For everything you ever wanted to know about cicadas but were afraid to ask, check out Sex and the Cicada or Cicada Mania.

For some reason, artists like portraying cicadas. The daddy cicada above (about three inches long and purchased at the recent Pier Show, in complete ignorance of the coming invasion) is actually a brooch, most likely made of horn, and most likely from early 20th century China. A British Museum website entry states that in ancient China, cicadas were associated with longevity for the living, and that jade cicada amulets were placed on the tongues of the dead, possibly to symbolize resurrection.

In France, in the 1930s, cicadas brooches were popular good luck charms. Made of shagreen, a favored material in French art deco design, this mommy cicada (two inches long) has been dyed three separate colors: blue, olive and cream. She was found on Etsy, and purchased to celebrate the invasion.

Another favored material of the art deco period was resin. This baby cicada (one and a half inches long), in molded purple, also French art deco, has wings outlined in gold paint.  With three cicadas (this one also from Etsy), you can put a creditable imitation of the impending invasion on your hat or jacket!

While we're on the subject of brooches, this seems as good a time as any to say be very careful when buying and wearing them. Brooches probably ruin more women's clothes than cigarette ashes.

1. A brooch with a fine, sharp, smooth point is best. If the pin is not sharp and smooth, work it VERY slowly through the fabric to prevent tearing. Tearing even one thread can ruin the look of the material. Try putting your fingertip on the other side of the fabric where you want to insert the pin. If you work the pin in slowly and carefully enough that you do not hurt your finger, the fabric should also be unhurt.

2. If the point of the brooch is blunt, wear the brooch on a fabric with a large weave, or a thick wool knit. These materials are more forgiving.

3. Match the weight of the brooch to the strength of the fabric. Don't put a heavy brooch on a thin silk, for example.


Okay, you've been very patient. To take your mind off bugs - just for a moment, mind you - here's a bunny.

This is a hand carved glass bunny bead. If you're having trouble making him out, he's facing left, and sitting up with his forearms on his haunches. He has a red bead eye, and you should be able to see his carved whiskers. Based on his size (about 1" high), we're guessing that he's from China, and was originally part of a set of twelve beads depicting the animals of the zodiac. Jean found him at Becky's stall at the Columbus Avenue Flea Market, and Valerie scooped him up to do somethingorother with, sometime.


Okay, back to bugs now, but we're going to ease you into it nicely, with a stunning decorative hair comb Ann Wagner found on an auction site. (Sorry, we don't know where it is or what it cost. We don't know how big it is, but you can sort of guess from the size of the tines.)

This is a plastic hair comb, dated to about 1900 - 1920, also French. Don't you want to know who made it? Don't you want to know who wore it? And don't you want to know if someone bought it for her, and if so, who, and why???? (And don't you want one for your very own?!  Wouldn't it be worth growing your hair to be able to we this?)

So, since we're on the subject of spiders, we want to show you some of the research a young man, Jurgen Otto, has been doing on the peacock spider of Australia. One look at Otto's pictures, and you can see how this spider got its name.

Now for readers who are afraid of spiders, let us put this into perspective for you.

And here's Jurgen Otto himself in a video introducing the courtship dance of the peacock spider, which is when he (the spider, that is) shows off his finery. If you hate anything longer than 30 seconds, fast forward to the three minute point.


We have Lyle Zapato to thank for putting this little snippet (only nine frames long) online where we can enjoy it. It's from a cartoon called The Monkey Fleet (Osaru no Kantai), which dates back to 1936, when Japan was gearing up for war, and military themes were everywhere. Lyle writes that the whole cartoon is only sixty-eight seconds long. For more from Lyle on The Monkey Fleet, click here. Unfortunately, the cartoon is not available online in its entirety, but you'll see a few more stills, and Lyle's descriptive powers help you conjure up the rest.

Kids, that's all we have time for today. Tune in next time for something completely different!


  1. Bugs, bunnies and Octopi, Oh My! A very enjoyable post, and informative too. The peacock spider is one crazy-ass little arachnid. For some reason its dance reminded me of Josephine Baker...

  2. LOL! The cicadas came to us a couple of years ago -- maybe three -- and somehow they energize me. Others complain about the noise and the mess, but I find it rather beautiful and inspiring. xxoo Patty