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From The Story of B:
Excerpt 4

Burying beetles and their phoretic mites

B used her twig over to raise a branch of a low bush and invited
him to have a look under it. What it looked like was a dead mouse
being buried like a bather at the beach. Only its head showed,
nestled in a little mound of dirt. As he watched, the ruffle of dirt
around its neck bubbled here and there, and the mouse visibly
slid back a millimeter, as if literally sinking into the earth.

“What you’re seeing here is the work of burying beetles who are
scooping out the earth beneath the mouse. Once they have the
mouse completely under-ground, they’ll harden the chamber
around it. Then, while the corpse rots, the female will lay her
eggs nearby so the larvae will have easy access to the carrion
mass once it’s opened up.”

“Yum,” Jared said.

“Oh, there’s plenty of competition for this mouse, Jared—other
insects, microbes, many vertebrate scavengers. The flies are
especially bothersome, because they may have laid their eggs in
the mouse’s fur before the beetles came along. Fortunately—but
not surprisingly—the beetles themselves are supplied with egg-
sweepers, mites that make their homes right on the beetles and
that live on flies’ eggs. The mouse, the beetles, the mites, and
and flies are all inspiring embodiments of the Law of Life.” He
thought about this last statement as they made their way back
to the clearing. “I’m afraid don’t see what makes these creatures
embodiments of the law,” he told her.

“The Law of Life in a single word is: abundance. A useful exercise
would be for you to go back to the mouse carcass and bring back
one of the beetles. Then I’d have you pick off a couple dozen of
the beetle’s phoretic mites so you could examine them under a

“What would I learn from that?”

“You’d learn that each mite—such an inconsiderable creature!—
is a work of so much delicacy, perfection, and complexity that it
makes a digital computer look like a pair of pliers. Then you’d
learn something even more amazing, that, for all their perfection,
they aren’t stamped out of a mold. No two of them are alike—no
two in all the mighty universe, Jared!”

“And this would be a demonstration of . . . abundance?”

“That’s right. This fantastic genetic abundance is life’s very secret
of success on this planet.”



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