“I don’t like those new neighbors.”

“Oh of course you don’t. You don’t like anything new. But still, we need to be nice to them. We need to go over there and tell them ‘welcome to the Big Apple!'”

“There won’t be a Big Apple left after they’re done with it, yo mark my words.”

“Oh, stop. You’re always exaggerating.”

“Exaggerating? Have you seeen how they live? Have you seen their kids running around all over the place? I swear I saw one of them bite the head off a little critter the other day.”

“So what if they did? Kids will be kids.”

“I’m telling you: life inside the Big Apple just isn’t the same when a family of ladybugs like that moves in. Worms like us won’t be able to catch a break, and before you know it, birds’ll get us all.”

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“Oh my God!” buzzed Harold. “Cindy is dead!”

“No! Oh, no!” Her sister Katie rushed over to where Cindy lay on the sidewalk. “It’s not fair! She was only seventeen years old…she’d just come out of her shell…she’d only had sex once…and now she’s gone!”

The others raised their voices in a mournful wail.

“Then again, we’re all going to die by tomorrow,” Katie said. “If we’re not eaten by birds first.”

Buzzing in agreement, the assembled cicadas–none of whom had functioning mouthparts as an adult–dispersed to try and do their business in the 8-12 hours of life remaining to them.

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The assembled members of the scientific staff each had a visible Strepsipterid protruding or pulsating beneath their clothing, and their faces all wore the same beatific expression. Motile scurrying larval planidia, each the size of silver dollars, crawled over the floor and the bodies of the people in their thrall, while butterfly-sized males flitted from perch to perch about the larviform female parasites.

“They are peaceful parasites, it is true, but that does not mean they do not know a modicum of defense.” Dr. Warren said, her voice a serene monotone. “The others are dead; having refused the gift, we were forced to act in the name of the greater good.”

It was only then that Gracie noticed the soldiers in the wings, their rifles limber and deadly, their own Streptisterid parasites alive with pulsations.

“Surely you must concede, Dr. Warren,” Gracie said, trying to appeal to what might be left of her colleague’s logic, “that one can refuse the gift but not wish those who have accepted it harm. Isn’t that the kind of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ thinking that your peace seeks to defeat?”

“You are proceeding from a false assumption,” Warren replied coldly. “Could the creatures of the Precambrian who could not to adapt to an oxygen-rich atmosphere from one that was purely nitrogen persist? Of course not. The gift is oxygen; to refuse is by definition to die.”

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They are the most enigmatic order of insects, and yet in many ways the most beautiful, the most devoted. It’s a measure of how little we know of them that they have only such cold and impersonal names as Strepsiptera or “twist-winged flies.” I have devoted my life to their study.

I am sure that at some stage in their evolution they were something else, but in our era they are parasites, living inside creatures as varied and pestilent as wasps, silverfish, cockroaches. The young are scuttling planidium, almost microscopic in the wild, that burrow into the larger insects they parasitize. Once inside, they undergo hypermetamorphosis, losing their legs and their eyes in favor of a wormlike form that has a variety of effects on its host in addition to living off it as a parasite. They can alter the host’s behavior in a much more complex way than Cordyceps fungi to suit their needs; causing it to go where they want and to congregate with more it its kind.

Females remain wormlike parasitic grubs their whole lives, but the males eventually metamorphose again into tiny fly-like organisms with beautiful gossamer wings. They have only a few hours to find and mate with a female before their energy reserves are exhausted, and cannot eat…what used to be their mouth has been modified into a sensory structure of unparallelled power for something so tiny. There’s a certain purity about Strepsiptera that’s not found in any other creature; they never eat when they are mobile, and they do not typically kill their hosts.

My sponsors in the military hoped to use Strepsiptera’s ability to alter the behavior of its hosts for strategic purposes, and that was the source of our experimental breeding program, trying to create a Strepsiptera large enough to affect a mammalian host and one that will alter behavior in the way that would be useful for killing and maiming, even though that is not at all in keeping with the nature of these gentle parasites. The largest males of our new strain were the size of butterflies, their wings a thousand times more delicate and beautiful, and their heads aquiver with complex sense organs and the most basal compound eyes in the insect world. The females were much larger, and gave birth to young who could secrete enzymes to break down not only skin but also clothing to enter.

They said that the experiments were ultimately a failure, that the behavior induced in the test animals was simply limited to congregating with other parasitized specimens and becoming deeply protective of the living monuments to maternity within and the fleeting, selfless masculine gossamer flutterlings without. They said that the funding was to be pulled before we could engage on field trials and human subjects. They are peaceful parasites, it is true, but that does not mean they do not know a modicum of defense.

We are all huddled together now in the laboratory on the base, deriving the most serene comfort from each others’ presence, the sort of feeling that would have precluded all human conflict had we but discovered it earlier. The ones outside are dead; having refused the gift, we were forced to act in the name of the greater good. They are peaceful parasites, it is true, but that does not mean they do not know a modicum of defense.

I can see them protruding from my abdomen now, a dozen or more gently quivering with peace and life. Some destined to reside in me forever, to bring forth brood upon brood of peace and brotherhood to release upon the world; some destined to soon burst forth in fleeting gossamer life to mate with others and bring still more broods about.

Strepsiptera. Twist-winged flies. Parasites. Love, in its purest and most selfless form. I cannot wait to see where they will take us in their purity.

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Applause Cricket
Sloeclaeppa applausus

Unlike most true crickets, insects of the genus Sloeclaeppa have evolved to draw sustenance from human emotion. They tend to congregate in performance venues, concert halls, and anywhere else someone may be expected to perform, and whenever a suitable silence presents itself, they will chirp loudly and feed on the resulting embarrassment, shame, and other negative emotions. Some researchers believe that they can only hydrate themselves through flop-sweat, but this remains unclear.

“Applause crickets have been known to chirp in the interval between a performance and the resulting applause, as they are able to get by on the small amount of emotion generated there, but they tend to prefer unforgiving venues and comedy clubs which offer much greater engorgement. The Apollo Theater in New York has been trying to rid itself of an infestation for years.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

Quilting Bee
Planetoftha apis

Quilting Bees are unlike the closely related honeybees in that they don’t construct hives or produce beeswax, but rather use their stingers to sew a flexible clothlike structure used to contain honey and brood young. The cloth is renowned for its warmth and durability, and rural peasants have long been known to smoke quilting bees out of their blankets before winter in order to make use of the fabric and the honey it contains during the lean times.

“The bees’ quilts were very susceptible to clothing moths, which meant that even the most carefully maintained one never lasted but a season or two.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

Multitudius incomprehensibili

Infinipedes are seemingly normal millipedes, and have the same habitat, diet, and behavior as other myriapods. However, they literally have an uncountable number of legs, despite the fact that they clearly must have a discrete number based on observations. The Deep Brown supercomputer at the University of the Rift was designed specifically to automate the task of counting an infinipede’s legs, but it ran out of processing power after only 12 minutes of sustained counting.

“The first myriapodologist who attempted to count an infinipede’s legs was driven to madness, and had to be subdued after he tried to attack a mathematician while shrieking that number theory had failed the infinipede, not the other way around.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

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A firefly met a spider at dusk once, and they exchanged a few words in the secret language of arthropods, a patois of gestures and pheromones that no larger creature could ever hope to understand.

“I have often wondered why it is you glow,” said the spider. She was busy spinning a fresh web for the wave of prey that would arrive with the dusk. “Surely it only attracts those who would eat you.”

“We find our mates that way,” replied the firefly, alighted on a nearby branch, with caution. “They shine in the dark and so do we.”

“But I find my mate without such blinking,” replied the spider. “He comes for my scent and my web, and does not speak or display anything but the utmost obedience as he dances, lest he be my next meal. None need know what passes between us.”

“Ah, but surely one of the big ones has seen the dew on your web in the morning sun,” the firefly said. “As great a light as mine, or greater, and worse because you cannot move it.”

“But I can move myself,” the spider sniffed. “And the big ones do not often seek me for their repast, as they know my fangs drip with venom. You have no such fangs.”

“My children do.” The firefly flitted its wings casually. “They eat the slimy garden-creepers below before turning to the sweet flower-juice in their old age.”

“But we are not speaking of your little worm-brood, but of you. What is to keep me from eating you now? I can leap farther than you can fly, and faster, and my sight is far beyond your little shining orbs.” Thus saying, she jumped.

The firefly had predicted this; what had seemed a mere idle twitch had really been the warm-up to his takeoff. “There is one thing you should know,” he said as he flew away. “Our lights are also a warning to your kind. A firefly is toxic to any who would eat it, as surely as your venom is. Remember that, and your manners, the next time you meet one.”