Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







The Twelve Days of Christmas

Without traditional songs, the Christmas season wouldn’t seem quite right. One such song is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The joyous song is filled with people — drummers and pipers, lords, ladies and maids. It also includes a whole flock of birds. There are swans, geese, hens, doves and, of course, a partridge in an unusual place — perched in a pear tree.

Instead of people and feathered creatures, the writer, lo those many years ago, could have chosen to include insects in the song.

For instance, cicadas. These insects make sounds by vibrating a taut membrane. That is precisely the method used by drummers.

No piper is more adept at creating sounds than the merriest musician of the insect world, the cricket.

Grasshoppers, known in many parts of the world as locusts, can out-leap any old lord I know.

While some ladies can really cut the rug, the dance of the mayfly, for sheer intensity, is hard to beat. Maybe its because mayflies literally dance their lives away. They only live for a day and dance all the while!

We all know that the job of milking cows fell to maidens in some societies. Amongst insects, some ants also are well known for their habit of milking their cows — aphids.

Flies are as adept at flying as swans are at swimming.

Geese a-laying are nearly as common as grubs in lawns, where these insect pests dig away.

With pesky insects such as grubs, flies and aphids, a spray can might just be more appreciated than a golden ring.

Calling birds are one thing, but many moths also call as part of their search for a mate.

French hens are nice, but body lice can really give a person something to talk about!

Instead of turtle doves, we could substitute tortoise beetles. After all, neither of these creatures are reptiles!

I’ve never seen a partridge in a pear tree, or any tree for that matter, but there is an insect called a psyllid, one of which is so common in pear trees that it is known as the pear psyllid.

Let’s see — with these changes the last verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” would go like this. On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 12 cicadas drumming, 11 crickets chirping, 10 locusts leaping, nine mayflies dancing, eight ants a-milking, seven flies a-flying, six grubs a-digging, five sprayer cans, four calling moths, three body lice, two tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann