In 2020, We Are All This Beetle

I’m … I’m … gorgeous! Photo: Shinji Sugiura/Kobe University

At long last, science has confirmed what we have always known in our hearts to be true: There are two ways out of a frog. (“I’m always saying this,” says my colleague Madeleine Aggeler.)

A new study published this week in Current Biology, “Active Escape of Prey From Predator Vent Via the Digestive Tract,” by Shinji Sugiura, a biologist at Kobe University in Japan, focuses on the purgative exodus of a particular water scavenger beetle, Regimbartia attenuata, which, despite the obvious hardship of being swallowed alive by a frog, can soldier ably through several inches of frog gut and induce defecation to be extruded alive, active, and not much worse from the wear. Or, as the New York Times put it, “This plucky little insect can scuttle down the amphibian’s gut and force it to poop.”

The tiny shiver of recognition you may be feeling is that of dawning awareness as you realize that, of course, you knew this already because you, like me, are Homo attenuatus — attenuated man (or woman, or as you prefer), weakened, a scavenger flitting over the cruel face of the earth, currently entrapped by a cruel and nigh-unforeseeable fate — trying bravely to persist in pressing forward. (As Robert Frost, noted water beetle, once wrote, “The best way out is always through.”) Take heart! “Insect morphologies and behaviors always inspire me,” Sugiura told the Times, and in these, our inspiration-free times, what better hero to idolize than little Reg Imbartia, who, on reaching what seems to be the end of the tunnel, “may be able to tickle open the cloacal sphincter, the ring of muscle that drawstrings the frog’s rear end shut, expelling themselves in a flood of feces.” Whoopee!

Do we dare to imagine that a brighter future may be coming? O, happy day! As I’ve always told you, there are two ways out of a frog. (Remember that Jonah, the post-exilic Jewish heartthrob who was briefly enwhaled, was expropriated via the opposite end. Though Scripture does not mention it, cetologists aver that there are likewise two ways out of a whale.) Until our deliverance is at last at hand, let us persevere through inch after inch of intestinal darkness, and, when the blessed moment is at hand, remember what is demanded of us. Tickle, tickle!

In 2020, We Are All This Beetle