Think outside the box

Marketplace Staff Dec 18, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Three out of four people say they’re almost, or they are done with, their Christmas shopping. The latest retail survey says that’s up from about two in three people this time last year. Maybe now that they’ve got some time they can concentrate on wrapping those gifts. And that’s got naturalist Richard Conniff thinking outside the box.

RICHARD CONNIFF: They’re cutting snowflakes out of coffee filters! They’re tying on bouquets of chocolate kisses! They’re writing Ho Ho Ho! in glitter glue on big strips of red ribbon. And why not? If you can’t dazzle ’em with the gift inside, at least you can wow ’em with your wrapping. It’s an idea that certain . . . insects would appreciate.

For instance, a male dance fly’s strategy is to go out and catch something luscious, then offer it to a likely female as a nuptial gift.

It’s typically just a mosquito, but he wraps it up in silk anyway. And while she’s happily unwrapping it and eating it, he’s busily mating with her.

The balloon fly male actually gives the female a silk wrapping with nothing inside. It’s like giving her an empty Tiffany box. But she’s impressed anyway, and he still gets to mate with her. (A word to thewise: Don’t try this at home. She won’t be impressed by an empty Tiffany box even if you put a really romantic note inside.)

Male dance flies of another species also wrap their gift in silk. But then they stick in their mouthparts and suck out all the juicy goodness before giving it to the female. A bit like giving her a Tiffany box with a used gift inside.

And finally some dance flies collect a dried-up insect fragment from the ground and wrap that in silk. Kind of like giving her a knock-off from Wal-Mart in a Tiffany box.

So, I’m beginning to think the ritual of wrapping is a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. There are actually websites now where people go for the vicarious thrill of watching total strangers unwrapping their gifts. Playstations and Zunes and Smartphones get the most hits.

And that’s got me thinking. When it comes to wrapping, I’m the kind of guy who leaves thumb prints on the Scotch tape. And there’s no way I’m ever going to do anything clever with a coffee filter.

So maybe this year, I’ll just send the kids to an online video: “Hey, here’s what it would have been like to open the Playstation I couldn’t afford to buy you.”

The dance flies of the world would surely approve.

RYSSDAL: Richard Conniff is author of the book “Ape in the Corner Office.”

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