『孤独なバッタが群れるとき』—果てしない愛がつづる極上のミステリー

私はこのとき、緑色というだけでみさかいなく群れで襲ってくるバッタの貪欲さに恐怖を覚えたとともに、ある感情が芽生えた。
「自分もバッタに食べられたい」


何かに熱狂している人の語る、”何か”についての話は、めっぽう面白い。
AKB48、サッカー、陶器、ファッション。
なんでもいいのですが、何かに心奪われてしまった人の語りには強く惹かれてしまうものです。

まず、語る姿そのものが興味深い。
愛するものへの思い、知識、意見が止まることなく溢れ出る。
その姿自体にどこかおかしみや、羨ましさを覚えてしまうものです。

しかし、何といっても醍醐味はその語る内容の深さ。
自分の知らなかった世界、いや、興味を示さずに捨て置いてしまっていた世界に、こんなにも面白いことがつまっていたのか!、と驚いてしまいます。
知的好奇心が刺激され、お話をねだる子どものように「もっともっと!」と続きが聞きたくなってしまいます。

本書もまた、著者の前野がバッタへの愛を余すところなく披露し、読者もまたその愛すべきバッタの世界を堪能できる、贅沢な内容となっています。
『孤独なバッタが群れるとき』は、1人の学者の研究結果であり、1人の男の挑戦であり、極上のミステリーでもあるのです。

前野さんが研究対象として選んだのは、サバクトビバッタ
砂漠地帯に生息しているバッタで、姿形はトノサマバッタにも似ています。
前野さんとバッタとの馴れ初めは小学生の時にさかのぼります。

あれは、小学生の頃に読んだ子ども向けの科学雑誌の記事だった。外国でバッタが大発生し、それを見学するために観光ツアーが組まれたそうだ。女性がそのツアーに参加したところ、その人は緑色の服を着ていたため、バッタに群がれ、服を食べられてしまったそうだ。私はこのとき、緑色というだけでみさかいなく群れで襲ってくるバッタの貪欲さに恐怖を覚えたとともに、ある感情が芽生えた。
「自分もバッタに食べられたい」
その日以来、緑色の服を着てバッタの群れの中に飛び込むのが夢となった。

このサバクトビバッタ、時折おびただしい数の集団となって現れ、食物を根こそぎ食べていく悪魔として猛威を振るっています。
旧約聖書にも、サバクトビバッタがエジプトを襲う様子が記述されています。

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YNy2R3hg2Q[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxHOxCmbs-8[/youtube]

サバクトビバッタは通常からだが緑色なのですが、大群となって襲ってくる時のバッタたちはなぜか体が黒い、という謎がありました。
黒いバッタは、通常時には全く見つかりません。
いったいどこから黒い大群がやってくるのか、長年の謎でした。

それを解明したのが、ロシアの昆虫学者ウバロフ卿。
実は緑色のサバクトビバッタが、育つ環境によって黒い悪魔へと変わっていくことが判明したのです。
悪魔への変化を決める鍵は、「混み合い」
他のバッタにぶつかるような密度の高い環境で育ったバッタは、体を黒く変化させるのです。

このように体が黒くなったサバクトビバッタを「群生相」、緑色のサバクトビバッタを「孤独相」と呼びます。
前野さんは、この孤独相と群生相のメカニズムを解明しようと日夜研究されています。

locust1

本書も、話の核となるのは前野氏の研究内容となります。
そのため比較的アカデミックな内容となるのですが、そこは前野氏の語り口の妙によって、グイグイと話に引き込まれていきます。

かたい内容を苦労なく読み進められるのは、そこに前野さんの“人間味”が嗅ぎ取れるからです。

論文というものは、事実とそれに基づく推測で構成されています。
「どれだけその研究を愛しているか」「どんなに苦労したか」
そうした裏側が語られることはありません。

本作では、その裏側の部分、前野がどう目の前の課題に挑戦していったか、という1人の研究者の物語を堪能することができます。

相蓄積のカラクリを説明するこの考えを証明するためにはいったいどうしたらよいのか? 方法はたった一つ。自分たちでやるしかない。ウバロフ卿の教科書と同じように連続飼育し、それを証明しようという実験計画を立てた。ちなみに、サバクトビバッタの一世代はおよそ三ヶ月。これから二年近くバッタを毎日飼育し続けることになる。この状態はまさに安藤先生の言っていた、
「いやぁ 僕はねぇ、虫を飼ってるんじゃないよ。虫に飼われているんだよ」
という状態そのものだった。

実験を続けるにあたってぶつかる、数多い壁。
研究費や手間を抑えるために、知恵と工夫を総動員していくのも見所です。
暗闇でのバッタの活動を観察するために、バッタの目に黒いマニュキュアを塗り、バッタの写真もカメラではなくスキャナーを使うことによって、均一にムラなく、スピーディーに取得することができます。

locust2

バッタが密度を感知するときに視覚を利用しているか、ということを確かめるためには、小さく透明な容器がたくさん必要となりました。
業者に頼めばてっとり早いものの、1.5L入りのペットボトルでも代用できることが分かりました。

それからというもの、私たちは十分な数の実験容器を揃えるために、来る日も、来る日もひたすら清涼飲料水を飲み続けた。そして、手元には200本を越える空のペットボトルが積みあげられていた。己の健康を犠牲にしてまで真実に立ち向かわんとする研究者魂が芽生え始めていた(中身を捨てるという選択肢は私たちにはなかった)。

時に、バッタにとっての光の重要性を確かめるために、「暗闇の中でどうやってバッタを光にさらすか」というとんち問答のような難問を解かなければいけなくなります。

そして、ページをめくる手が止まらなくなる最大の理由は、バッタたちの持つ数多くの“謎”です。
真犯人を捕まえたと思った瞬間、新たな事件が起こる。
そんなミステリー小説のように、バッタの1つの謎を明らかにしたとたんに、また新たな疑問、謎が現れます。

疑問 → 推測 → 実験 → 解明 → 新たな疑問

調べれば調べるほどサバクトビバッタの謎は増え、それに伴い「もっとこの奇妙で魅力的な生きものの生態を知りたい!」という欲求も高まるばかり。
加速度的にページをめくるスピードが増していく。
そんな、知的好奇心を贅沢に満たす読書体験を味わうことができます。

バッタの持つ魅力、前野さんが行ってきた挑戦。
それらを知った後で迎える巻末の意気込みには、心震えてしまいました。
ぜひ、本書を読んでそれを体感してみてください。

前野さんのブログも必見です。

砂漠のリアルムシキング

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