If everything works out right a child in the years between two and ten spends hundreds of hours lying on the floor in her room contemplating childhood, walls, ceilings and whatever clouds float across the horizons of young, brains. Such hours of quiet revelation are important. It is during them when strange creatures sometimes come most clearly into view. As an adult, I am afforded relatively few days during which I have enough time to just lie around staring at the walls or the sky. But several nights ago such an opportunity arose. That is when I saw my first glimpse of the missing link.

I went to work all day, came home, had dinner with my family, got the kids to bed and then and only then remembered I had promised Bora—no last name necessary, benevolent wizard of science blogs—I would write an article about how toilets saved the world, by six AM the next day. I had already worked a dozen hours on the piece. It seemed as though I could get the story finished in an hour or so, but sometimes words and ideas are stubborn. Midnight came and went. So did 1 am, 2 am, and 3 am. At 4 am, I began to have my doubts about whether I would finish, which is when I decided to lie down on the floor and stare at things for a moment. I was giving my mind a break and stretching my body, but I was tired. I probably would have fallen asleep then and there on the floor had what happened next not happened. In an instant, everything can change. He came out of a dark corner of the basement. He had long black legs, a hard, dark body, and two thick mouthparts, of the sort one has nightmares about. A carabid beetle! The beetle high-stepped his way across the computer-lit room. I felt a certain companionship towards the beetle. Like me, he seemed to be searching for something that might or might not be found. I watched him run until he disappeared into the darkness. Then, a few minutes later, he reappeared! He had something white it his mouth, a morsel of success. I could not help but smile. Here were predator and prey in among the wild landscape of couch, desk, and old refrigerator. The ancient passion play of predation was being reenacted, as though just for me.

I watched for a while longer. The beetle did not return, but it did not matter. I was inspired. I finished my article on ecology of toilets. The sun began to rise through the basement windows. My wife and children were waking up. Ruby, the neighbor’s dog was barking. I should have gone back to sleep, if only for a minute, but amid the morning sounds I got to wondering about the beetle. In my searching, I found my story. I could not help wondering what the beetle, in his searching, found.

As I’ve already said, the beetle was carrying some smaller beast, but what kind? I have not seen many prey species in my house. In the relatively small literature on the species inside houses, little is said about who eats who or who eats what.

Continue Reading in Scientific American