It’s summer in North America. And with the summer heat we see the emergence of several species that had been hibernating during the long cold months. Of these warm-weather animals, surely one of the strangest and most fascinating to behold is that perennial prey of American children– the ice-cream truck.
Ice-cream trucks (conglacio cremor plaustrum) are indigenous to North America and can often be seen during daylight hours slowly meandering through the streets of cities and suburbs. Their melodious song is thought to play a role in territorial marking. One truck will patrol its home territory, emitting a distinctly identifiable tune that warns other trucks to keep away. It is extremely rare for two trucks to meet; this event has never even been captured on camera. Speculation varies as to how territorial conflicts are resolved. One theory is that the horizontal bar-shaped protuberances found on both the front and hind quarters may be used for sparring with competitors.
The ice-cream truck is a remarkable creature, exhibiting some behaviors not found anywhere else in nature. Like many prey animals, an ice-cream truck will become perfectly still when it senses a predator approaching, in an instinctive attempt to camouflage with its surrounding environment. Indeed, it bears a striking resemblance to several other inhabitants of the street, most notably the “mail truck”. However, over time this simple instinct has evolved into an astonishing symbiosis between predator and erstwhile prey.
Human children living in an ice-cream truck’s territory often form ad-hoc hunting groups and work together to chase a single truck to ground. But rather than hiding or fleeing, the truck has evolved bright alluring plumage along its flank that serves to distract the predators from their normal killing instinct. While the hunters are stunned, the ice-cream truck will secrete a cold and sweet-tasting substance known as “ice-cream” (which is, of course, the origin of the species’ name). The predators, overheated from the chase, will generally choose to consume the ice-cream, entirely ignoring the truck itself as a potential prey item.
During the exchange of ice-cream, there can also be observed the transference of small objects known as “currency” from the children to the truck. While it is unclear exactly what role this transfer plays, it seems that currency is a substance required by the ice-cream truck’s biology.
Parents often attempt to dissuade their cubs from hunting the trucks, because they have perfectly good ice-cream available at home already. However, the natural chase instinct of the children and the alluring call and bright plumage of the ice-cream trucks usually override this influence.
The fragile symbiosis enjoyed by ice-cream trucks and children may be jeopardized by several disturbing trends. In recent years, many human children have turned to a form of simulated hunting experience known as “video games”, and no longer hearken to the call of the roving trucks. Additionally, a localized over-abundance of other food sources has led many children to become overweight and thus incapable of chasing down their coveted prey.
Ice-cream trucks remain a favorite subject of nature enthusiasts to this day. As both the truck-watchers and children will tell you, ice-cream always tastes better when it’s chased.