As I start this column on September 11, tears are being shed in
remembrance of those who died on that horrible day six years
ago. On TV, I’m watching first responders in New York reading
the names of the nearly three thousand victims of the World
Trade Center attacks. Certainly none of us who live in the New
York metropolitan area will ever forget the traumatic events of
9/11 and the concerns for the fates of friends or family working
in or visiting Manhattan that day.
Last week, tears were shed for a solitary figure whose voice and
charisma endeared him to music lovers worldwide. In his Week
in Review (9/8/2007), Brian Trumbore marked the death of
Luciano Pavarotti and recalled taking my wife and me to Giants
Stadium here in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. I find it hard
to believe it was 11 years ago on a beautiful moonlit night that
we were treated to a concert by the Three Tenors (Pavarotti,
Domingo and Carreras) with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
conducted by James Levine. A football stadium isn’t the ideal
venue for listening to opera but this was indeed something very
special and the stadium was packed.
My wife and I had seen Pavarotti once before, at the Met in New
York. I forget which opera it was but Pavarotti had been ill with
some sort of flu or other virus and this was his first performance
after the illness. All was going well until he tried to hit what I
imagine was one of his famed high Cs. Suddenly, there was a
loud sound as though something had fallen backstage, but the
audience gasped and I realized Pavarotti’s voice had cracked –
he had come back too soon. In one TV program last week they
showed a performance in Italy, possibly at La Scala, where he
missed a high C and got booed by some in the audience. In an
interview, I was surprised that Pavarotti said booing was justified
if a singer performed poorly. He obviously held himself to a
We were fortunate that one New York Public TV station put on a
rebroadcast of a “Live from Lincoln Center” performance of
Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore”, The Elixir of Love, in memory
of Pavarotti. It was a fitting tribute to my favorite singer.
Incidentally, we owe thanks to Brian Trumbore for giving my
wife and me the opportunity to see another famed singer of
Italian ancestry perform here in New Jersey. That was Francis
Albert Sinatra at what was then the Garden State Art Center.
Frank was in the sunset of his career but was in good voice that
night. Two of the giants in the musical arena.
Tears are shed in sorrow and sometimes in joy but in the
September issue of National Geographic I found that they can
also be a food item! Madagascar, that island off the southwest
coast of Africa, is home to a number of strange creatures,
including the moth Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica. The
Geographic has a picture of the moth sitting on the back of a
sleeping bird, a Newtonia, which looks to me much like a
sparrow. The bird has its eyes closed and if you look carefully at
the picture you can see what looks like a very slender straw
extending from the moth’s head into the bird’s closed eye.
A close-up photo of the straw-like proboscis shows that it has
little barbs and hooks that apparently allow the moth to anchor
the “straw” while it’s dining on the bird’s tears. There’s also
speculation that the moth may inject an anesthetic to make sure
the bird doesn’t wake up. Why in the world would the moth go
to such lengths to feast on a sleeping bid’s tears? Karen Lange,
in the paragraph accompanying the picture, says that the tears are
a source of salt, proteins and/or minerals and that there are other
moths and butterflies that drink tears. However, they get their
tears from what would seem to be much more accessible sources
such as cattle, pigs, elephants and even humans!
Evolution has produced some weird results but why would this
particular moth have come up with a straw to suck liquid out of a
bird’s eye. There are other sources of liquids with minerals or
other nutrients. Lange points out that the moth could simply
suck up water from puddles in the forest. However, she notes
that these puddles are loaded with frogs, which presumably could
make short order of a vulnerable moth. A good reason to search
out other dining venues!
Some articles I read about Pavarotti mentioned a honey-like
quality in his voice. Last week, the honeybee was back in the
news. Various articles in the media reported recent work
indicating that a virus might be responsible for the honeybee
crisis known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD has
resulted in the alarming decrease in the number of hives, leading
to a major problem related to the pollination of crops that rely on
the bee to do the job. The lead author of the multi-institutional
study published in Science Express, online publication of
Science, is Diana Cox-Foster, professor of entomology at Penn
State University. I found a detailed account of the work on a
Penn State Web site.
The researchers have linked a virus known as the Israeli Acute
Paralysis Virus (IVAP) to CCD. However, the researchers are
careful to say that they are not claiming that IVAP is in itself
responsible for CCD. What they have found is that IVAP
appears to be a marker associated with CCD, if not its cause.
According to an article by Juliet Eilperin in the September 7
Washington Post, the researchers found evidence of IVAP in 25
of 30 bee colonies with CCD but only in one out of 21 colonies
not affected by CCD.
There is a suspicion that Australia may be involved in the spread
of CCD. Israeli workers first identified IVAP in 2004, the same
year that the U.S. government began allowing the importation of
bees from Australia to augment our own bee population. The
presence of IVAP in Australian bees might be the source of the
virus here – it’s apparently not yet clear. Australia doesn’t have
a particular type of mite that in this country lowers the immunity
of bees, perhaps setting them up for an attack by a virus such as
IVAP. Thus it’s possible that IVAP would not affect the bees in
Australia but would here in the U.S. where the mites are present.
It’s not a simple thing. Cox-Foster and coworkers plan to
deliberately introduce IVAP in healthy hives to see if it causes
CCD to develop in those hives. Let’s hope they find out soon!
On the home front, my wife is in rehab following her latest
surgery and, hopefully, will be back home before next week’s
A late note: in today’s Star-Ledger I see that tears have been
shed over the death of a bird, a very special bird. I have written
about the famed African grey parrot, Alex, a number of times in
these columns. Alex was found dead in his cage last Friday.
Irene Pepperberg and her colleagues had worked with Alex
almost every day for the past 30 years. Alex’s way with words,
his ability to count and distinguish objects and colors, and even
his tendency to toy with researchers by deliberately giving wrong
answers was astounding. Pepperberg delayed the announcement
of his death to give time for the grieving researchers to get over
the shock and talk about it. Alex will be sorely missed.
Allen F. Bortrum