10 Places to See Some Cool Wildlife Near (or in) Your Home

My kids and I tested all these ideas in the field:

1. Down by the water. Here, for example, is a dobsonfly, over three inches long and armed with fangs bigger than a tarantula's. Just one of many eerie sights available only in the neighborhood of running water.

2. Beside the road. Roads, especially highways, are a great place to see wildlife because so many things get squished there. Nocturnal animals like badgers, armadillos, and opossums aren't likely to show themselves anywhere else. This is not a good situation for the animals, but, for the strong of stomach, it's a great opportunity. The white-tailed deer pictured here is more likely to hit the highway in the fall, but it can show up any time of the year.

3. In the kitchen. Pests like cockroaches may be available for viewing year-round, but most invaders are more likely to appear in the summer. Here's an insect called a box elder bug, enjoying a dollop of macaroni and cheese casserole left on my kitchen counter.

4. Up high. Above my back door, a Theridiid spider made a meal of one of those pesky box elder bugs. If you develop the habit of looking up, you may find your house filled with interesting wildlife. One spider lived above my bathroom sink for months, entertaining me every day while I brushed my teeth.

5. In the pantry. It's gross to think about, but some bugs like to eat the same food we do. Search through your pantry for carbohydrate-rich food like cereal and flour, and you may find the larvae of moths and beetles—or even the adults. Organic foods are especially hospitable to bugs. Don't worry, though. Most bugs don't carry germs and aren't a danger. These mealworms grow up into darkling beetles.

6. In the dirt. If you can't see anything interesting in plain sight, you're probably standing on it. Dig a couple of inches down in any shady, moist spot and you'll probably see animals you never noticed before. Here's a camel cricket sheltering among clods of mud.

7. In the sun. Here are those box elder bugs again. When it rains or gets chilly, they hide under bark or in buildings. But with the return of warm weather, I find them basking on exposed surfaces. . . like the side of my house. Lots of insects and reptiles do the same.

8. In the moonlight. You've probably never seen most of the wildlife where you live because it hides by day. This little orb-web spider lived in a crevice in the eaves of my house. Its web was almost impossible to see in sunlight, and we only discovered it when we saw a moth fighting for its life one night, seemingly against nothing.

9. In the weeds. Some animals, such as cats and mice, like to live with people. Others, like foxes, hate to come near us. And some thrive where we've been, on land plowed up for building or farming but reclaimed by weeds. Here's a grasshopper that popped up from the weeds nearby to bask on a bridge.

10. Where things are cut. In fact, anything broken or wounded is a natural home for other living things. This one isn't an animal, but it's too cool to leave out. It's a fungus called witches' butter, and it thrives on the stumps of trees.

Animal Attacks: The Crocodiles of Kenya

In Kenya, attacks by Nile crocodile are on the rise in at least one village. This article from the Daily Nation tells the stories of two families devastated by loss of loved ones.

The Nile crocodile may be the predator most likely to eat a human being these days. This earlier post shows the aftermath of a dust-up between keeper and zoo specimen. Beware: it's gruesome.

Oklahoma radio talk

I'll be on Tulsa Public Radio stations KWGS-FM and KWTU-FM with host Rich Fisher tomorrow, Wed. the 26th, to talk about dangerous animals. The times are 11:30AM and 7:30PM.

Deadly Kingdom Reviewed

On True/Slant, Mark Dery has nice things to say about Deadly Kingdom and The Red Hourglass ("If Cormac McCarthy turned his hand to nature writing, the results might sound something like Grice."). More important, he has insightful things to say about human relations with the wider animal world. Don't miss his take on Timothy "Mr. Grizzly" Treadwell, the most famous bear victim of recent times.

Those dangerous fellows at the Animal Review have also weighed in on Deadly Kingdom. "An excellent, addictive read," they say, among other stuff that causes my head to swell.

Deadly Kingdom is Here!

Today's the official launch date for Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals. I hope you'll consider buying a copy. Actually, I hope you'll do more than consider it. We book lovers are often tortoises. Time moves slowly for us; we may take a while to get around to a book, and we're pretty sure we'll still be able to find a copy of it in a year or two.

But my friends at the publishing house are like mayflies. They live speedier lives. If they don't see some sales this week, they'll decide I'm not much of a seller, and they'll forget about Deadly Kingdom. They'll give their next deal to some hack. (Hack: n. A writer other than me.)

If buying the book isn't feasible, you might consider asking your local library to buy it.

And if you're rolling in dough (because these days, who isn't?), why not buy one for yourself and another to donate to the library? I'm big on this library thing.

What Eats People, Part 13: Baboons

One of the more horrifying animal attacks I know of occurred in South Africa in 1964. A pet chacma baboon, which had escaped from its owner, stole a baby from its carriage. It bit through the baby's skull before the mother could stop it.

The method marks this as a predatory attack. Both yellow and chacma baboons have a history of occasionally preying on children. With enormous canine teeth and tremendous strength and agility, the largest male baboons are more than a match for any unarmed human.

But most encounters with baboons involve mugging and burglary, not killing. In South Africa today, baboons are a major urban pest. World Cup soccer fans may soon find out why.

Update: In a separate incident, workers at a San Antonio research facility were injured by baboons.

Related Post: Monkeys of New Delhi

Python in the Fence

These stunning photos, taken at the Silent Valley Game Ranch in South Africa, have been circulating in email forwards with the following bogus story:

Seems a sheep farmer was puzzled about the disappearance of some sheep on his farm. After a
few weeks the farmer decided to put up an electric fence.

About a week later, this is what he found!

Now, I know we've all heard of people being
eaten by snakes & I bet most of us have said,

'If a snake tried to eat me, I'd blah,
blah, blah & get away.'

Well, this is a Python & they're extremely
aggressive & have a few teeth that they use to hold their prey while they wrap around them
& then constrict..

Could you get away if this one bit you & held on with it's
"few teeth"?

(Note: The wires are 10 inches apart)

The real story, according to Silent Valley (as reported on Snopes.com) is that the massive rock python ate an impala and then couldn't fit under the fence. It got stuck and died there. The game-ranchers dissected it and removed the full-grown impala.

Rock pythons really can hurt people, and in a few cases have. But there's no evidence they do so in the wild. It's only when they're confined as pets that they come into conflict with people. As for the claim that a farmer was losing sheep: one sheep would last even a huge snake for months. They're not threats to livestock production.

Update: A later post provides evidence of pythons preying on people and other mammals in the wild.

More Posts about Pythons

Slideshow: Dangerous Snakes of the World

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