The Grace and Virtue of Thrift


Thrift is big today. The economy has everybody cutting back. Frugality is the new black.

Nature follows no fashion and is soundly against waste. Squander is out of the question. The natural world has but one rule: eat and be eaten.

Some creatures have a reputation for industry. The ant, for example, is thought of as diligent and thrifty. Aesop is largely responsible for portraying ants as sober, methodical workers who think ahead, while crickets are depicted as the Neros of the animal kingdon, merrily fiddling away as Rome burns.

Really, some ants are pretty feckless. In a carpenter ant colony the queen is the only one with any moxie.  Courtiers bring food and care for her every need. The nest quivers with activity. Everybody does his job.

Yet if something befalls her, the whole setup falls apart. The ants lose purpose, wander off and die. Over about a month the structure disintegrates. They can’t even get it together to organize some looting. All that saving and caretaking just goes right down the drain. So much for thrifty ways. I’d rather be a cricket. 

Now bees, that’s another story. bees All the
business columns with fashionable articles about economy could take a page from the bee book. The mantra is “don’t waste”. In addition to honey, bees gather and use other things. Pollen is food. The comb is built with wax secreted from the stomach. Tree sap becomes glue and insulation. And the storage! Survivalists take note: a bee hive will often put away three to four times what it needs to last the winter. 

flying-squirrel The charming thrift of the flying squirrel deserves mention.  This dreamy-eyed, nocturnal charmer is more of a glider than an actual flyer. It lives communally except when rearing young, when they separate into maternal groups. They aren’t fussy eaters, anything is fair game. Whatever is plentiful will please them.

Nests made of grass, lichen and shredded bark are often a reused cavity left by a woodpecker.  When cavities are scarce, they make do with leaf nests or recycle an old crow or ground squirrel nest. Human attics are cozy alternatives, too. 

When frigid whether confines them to quarters, they do the sensible thing. Having built well with tasty materials, they nibble on the nest until things improve.

A lesson to us all.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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11 Responses to “The Grace and Virtue of Thrift”

  1. Bridget Says:

    What a well-written commentary and article! Inspiring!

  2. Flo Woodiel Says:

    Mostly what I’d like to say about squirrels, flying or not, is their theiving proclivities which I suppose COULD be construed as thrifty.Mostly they devour all that I leave out for my birds! Sigh………
    Love the blog!

  3. AYarb Says:

    Life is busy, much like the bees yet it’s nice to slow down and look at what is in front of us. This blog is a nice treat. A reminder of the paralells of human life – complicated and simple. I can relate to the carpenter ant Queen (though not the part about being waited on!) but when something “befalls” me things do start to fall apart until we can get them back on track. Hmm, maybe I need to learn more about crickets and flying squirrels…

  4. Marilyn Says:

    This was very interesting and is truly a lesson for us all!

  5. Ratty Says:

    Your posts are always interesting and inspiring. Now, I’ll be watching animals go about their daily work with a new appreciation for them. After your story of dandelions, I’ve been watching for them everywhere I go. Now, I’ll be watching to see how animals work. Another great one!

  6. Melody Weisman Says:

    What a lovely BLOG; nicely written. I look forward to visiting. Happy Spring!

  7. Heather Says:

    Great piece! I love the reminder that long before hipsters and celebrities were conserving, nature already executed the design and set the trend. Thank you for sharing your insights Dianne.

  8. Krista Says:

    A lesson in simple economics from the natural world, who knew?

  9. CTNise Says:

    How interesting! Who couldn’t take a tip or two from nature? Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

  10. Connie Says:

    Great article. Not only are bees thrifty, the honey they produce is a marvelous food with NO expiration date!!! In a clinical study, it was shown that honey beat out dextromethorphan (the DM in cough syrup) in calming coughs! Has lots of antioxidants as well.

  11. Alice DeLana Says:

    What a fabulous series of articles! I hadn’t been on this site until just now, and I am truly dazzled by the range of topics, specificity of information, clarity of writing, and great good humor of the whole enterprise. Congratulations on putting together such a wonderfully interesting and information collection of observations, all of which are useful and entertaining — and all of which reflect glory on Hill-Stead’s outreach beyond the walls of the house and the art upon those walls. I can’t wait for the next installment!

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