Diversity and complexity of arthropod references in haiku

Andrew R. Deans, Laura Porturas

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Haiku are short poems, each composed of about 10 words, that typically describe moments in nature. People have written haiku since at least the 17th century, and the medium continues to be popular with poets, amateurs, educators, and students. Collectively, these poems represent an opportunity to understand which aspects of nature-e.g., which taxa and biological traits-resonate with humans and whether there are temporal trends in their representation or the emotions associated with these moments. We tested this potential using a mix of linguistic and biological methods, in analyses of nearly 4,000 haiku that reference arthropods. We documented the taxa and the life history traits represented in these poems and how they changed over time. We also analyzed the poems for emotion and tone. Our results reveal a mix of predictable trends and compelling surprises, each of which stand to potentially inform engagement strategies. At least 99 families of arthropods, in 28 orders, are represented in these haiku. The eight most commonly referenced taxa, from highest to lowest number of references, include: Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera, Araneae, Orthoptera, Hemiptera, and Odonata. Several common, conspicuous orders were never referenced, including Trichoptera, Plecoptera, and Megaloptera. The most commonly referenced traits relate to ecology (especially habitat, phenology, time of day), behavior (especially sound production), phenotype (especially color), and locomotion (especially flight). The least common traits in haiku relate to arthropod reproduction and physiology. Our analyses revealed few obvious temporal trends in the representations of taxa, biological traits, or emotion and tone. The broader implications of these results and possible future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0298865
JournalPloS one
Issue number4 April
StatePublished - Apr 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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