I can’t help but think about thrips at this time of year. They seem to love my office. They crawl everywhere. I’m constantly swiping them off my face and arms, and they end up in drifts on my desk when they die.
Thrips are tiny cigar-shaped insects with hairy wings (the order name, Thysanoptera, means fringe-winged). Most suck plant juices, and they leave characteristic little puncture wounds in leaves. Some transmit plant diseases.
Thrips are fascinating insects for a number of reasons.
Their development from egg to adult is not quite incomplete metamorphosis (in which the young look like the adults, but lack wings), and is not quite complete metamorphosis (in which the young look very different, and go through a pupal stage before adulthood). It’s a mix of both, and differs among species within the order.
Thrips are also left handed. As a south paw myself, I appreciate this. Instead of having a symmetrical mouth, like most other insects, with mandibles on both sides, thrips only have a left mandible. No one knows why this is the case. I like to think it’s because left handedness is just better.
Another thing I find intriguing about thrips is that some species will bite people, though they feed on plant juices. Our thrips, which I believe are Limothrips cerealum, the grain thrips, have this annoying tendency. They don’t bite often, but now and again you’ll feel a little stab and wonder what the insect is playing at.
Even linguistically, thrips are interesting. “Thrips” is both singular and plural—one thrips, many thrips. Thus, in the following poem, I couldn’t rhyme thrip with trip, it had to be thrips with sips…;)
What does it think
As it delicately sips
The juices of plants?
Does it prefer
My prizewinning rose?
Or does the pollen
Tickle its nose?
Does it find
The broccoli sweeter?
And how can it be
Such a big eater?