Whale on the Sidewalk

Walking through campus this morning, I came across a dead cicada, lying on its back in the middle of the sidewalk.  For some reason, it reminded me of a dead whale, having settled on the floor of the sea.

Completing my usual loop, I passed the same location and my initial image was reinforced.  A colony of ants was swarming the dead cicada, just as hagfish congregate on the carcasses of dead cetaceans.  In both cases, the nutritious tissues are soon devoured or, in the case of ants, carted back to the colony's den for social consumption.  Slower degradation of bone and chitin will be left to bacteria, natural erosion and the work of more sluggish invertebrates.

While this incident (and my reaction to it) may seem rather trite, nature is replete with scenarios that mimic one another.  After all, the web of life in all ecosystems requires the participation of predators, primary consumers, producers, scavengers and recyclers.  If we care to look, we can observe each process in that cycle, whether we are strolling through our neighborhood or exploring the ocean floor.