Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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Insects as calendar symbols

Time, as they say, marches on! By minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, humans chronicle the march of time. And now another year is coming to a close. Yes, 2010 is about to be consigned to the pages of history. That means we'll look back and speculate about what could have been. We'll look forward and anticipate things to come. We'll celebrate. We'll ring in the New Year.

That's the way it has always been. For thousands of years people have celebrated the onset of a new year, probably even before calendars were invented. But calendars make sure we all celebrate and begin a new year on the same day. At least that is the case if you are using the same calendar.

The Gregorian calendar starts the New Year on Jan. 1. In the traditional Chinese calendar the exact time of the New Year is determined by the lunar calendar. So depending on the year, the first day of the traditional Chinese New Year falls in late January or early February. Unlike the linear Gregorian calendar, the cyclical Chinese calendar features an animal for each year in the 12-year cycle.

The animals of the Chinese calendar include nine mammals: a rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, ram, monkey, dog and pig. One reptile, the snake, and one bird, the rooster are included. The 12th animal is a dragon. It is a little surprising that an insect or two, the most common animals on earth, did not make the list. This is especially so considering that a dragon, a mythical creature, was included.

The years of the Chinese calendar are named for the animal symbol. Thus, 2009 was the year of the ox, 2010 the year of the tiger and 2011 will be the year of the rabbit. So traditional Chinese were born in, for example, the year of the rat; this made it difficult to know a person's age.

The animals of the Chinese calendar function much as the moon signs of the zodiac do to predict attributes of the people born during that time. For instance, people born in the year of the ox are said to be hardworking. Anyone born in the year of the tiger is forceful, adventurous and confident. Rabbit people are articulate, talented and ambitious.

I don't put much stock in the predictions of the horoscope. I am a Gemini; people described by the words energetic, clever and witty. That I like. On the other hand we are also superficial, restless and devious. Not so flattering.

What if ancient people had seen fit to include insects as calendar symbols? What would the insects have symbolized relative to human personalities? Here are my nominations for insects and words that could describe the behavior of those creatures.

January: the butterfly - beautiful, fragile, flirtatious

February: the ant - hard working, dedicated, driven

Dung Beetle
March - The Dung Beetle

March: the dung beetle - strong, mechanical, comical

April: the moth - reclusive, obsessive, bland

May: the honey bee - social, ambitious, sharing

June: the dragonfly - flitting, adventuresome, predatory  

April - The Moth

July: the mosquito - whining, biting, bloodthirsty

August: the housefly - aggressive, persistent, alert

September: the praying mantid - voracious, deceptive, cunning

October: the bed bug - opportunistic, stealthy, persistent

November: the cockroach - sneaky, creative, independent

December: the Katydid - musical, shy, clever

So if you are brave, see if my new "Signs of the Insecta" are a useful predictor of your demeanor and personality. Let's see for me, being of June birth, I would be a dragonfly - flitting, adventuresome and predatory. I'm not so sure I like all of that. So let me try that ancient Chinese animal thing. Based on my year of birth I would fall under the year of the ram. I could be described as gentle and caring. Now that's more like it!

All of this proves once again that trying to predict human behaviors and personalities by the moon and stars - or insects - is an inexact endeavor. But just like heading into the New Year, it is always fun to speculate about the possibilities.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox