Panic. I filmed this cluster of sap sucking insects on a willow branch, and the closer I moved my camera, the harder their legs started to wriggle. In this black and white scene they become one dancing organism. A safety dance?
It’s funny how creatures like to hang out together, huddled closely — slugs, ladybugs, cockroaches, mushrooms, you name it. Sometimes flying clusters of ladybugs are so big that they show up on radar. No-one really knows why. Still, something about these clusters is relatable: company comfort. What’s more, they can raise questions about individuality. Some creatures live so close together and so intimately with their host (like a log or branch), it becomes hard to see where one begins and the other ends. They appear as one.
There are many possible reasons for sticking together: to keep warm (or moist), to find food or a potential mate, to find protection in the safety of the masses; or to find a better place to live together. Or perhaps simply to have a good time, one way or another. For an intriguing insight into social hangouts and communications of cockroaches, I recommend this article. Apparently, cockroach communication is influenced by odours from microbes in their faeces, which they find attractive and stimulate them to hang out together.
In the case of mushrooms, clusters are a sign of the underlying network that connects them. The mushrooms are in fact just a tiny fragment of their main underground body, the mycelium. If clusters of mushrooms are connected underground, should we think of them as one large individual, or does each mushroom still contain a sense of self? Fungi provide a whole other way of thinking about hybridity: being together one, and one together. I can’t help but think about intimacy. A type of intimacy perhaps unknown to humans, yet familiar at the same time.
And in the case of these sap suckers, the masses of legs up in the air… what does your imagination tell you?