Vampire Spiders of Africa

This species of jumping spider (Evarcha culicivora) has some interesting traits. When choosing which mosquito to attack, it prefers to take the ones laden with blood. As it gorges with blood, a mosquito's abdomen distends and swells. It may even turn a translucent red as its exoskeleton stretches to its maximum. In short, it looks different. The vampire spider notices that difference and acts accordingly. 

When I first heard of the research that established this preference, I wondered if the laden mosquitoes got caught more often simply because they were slower. But scientists have ruled this out. They experimented with mosquitoes gorged on sugar water. In that state, the mosquito is just as ungainly as a blood-gorged one, but the spider still goes for the blood. It can smell the difference. 

The scientists also observed a behavior more often associated with mammalian predators like cats: surplus killing. The spider will kill up to twenty blood-laden mosquitoes at a time, far more than it can eat. It may be saving them for later, or it may simply be bad at counting. 

Why prefer bloody mosquitoes? Probably for the extra protein. In effect, the spider gets not just the insect to eat, but also the blood meal inside it. (It's sometimes human blood, though the Anopheles mosquitoes can prey on other mammals as well.) In courtship, the spiders prefer potential mates that have recently fed on blood-laden mosquitoes.

More recently, the scientists have demonstrated that vampire spiders are attracted to the smell of human beings. They don't parasitize us directly, but it makes sense that they'd want to be around us to prey on the mosquitoes that take our blood. 

Earlier post about jumping spiders

Rothschild's Atlas Silkmoth and Luna Moth

The Rothschild's Atlas Silkmoth of Central and South America.

The Luna moth of North America. Dee tells me both of these live a week or less in the adult form. 

Photography by Dee Puett

Heatwave Brings Death's-Head Moth to Britain

Moths are the ghosts of the insect world. It may be the manner in which they flutter in unheralded out of the night that terrifies us. They seem to tap against our lighted windows as though the outer darkness had a message for us. And their persistence helps to terrify. But they are most terrifying of all if one suddenly sees their eyes blazing crimson as they catch the light. --Robert Lynd

As if to prove global warming isn't all bad, the United Kingdom is getting a glimpse of gorgeous--and sometimes scary--insects rarely seen there:

Heatwave attracts flight of colourful tourists from Continent - Nature, Environment - The Independent:

"The death's-head hawkmoth, Europe's most infamous insect, which bears the likeness of a skull upon its back, has turned up in England as part of the biggest influx of continental moths for many years. Several specimens have been spotted along the south coast.

Last weekend's extraordinary hot, caused by a mass of warm air surging up from southern Europe, brought with it hundreds of moths of numerous rare species from France, Spain and even the Mediterranean."

Thanks to D'Arcy for the news tip. 

Flying Foxes

Photography by Dee Puett

Rattlesnakes Denning

Thanks to Amanda, who forwarded me this set of photos featuring the denning behavior of rattlesnakes. Forwards are of course not always to be trusted, but this one claims the dens are in the area of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Rattlesnakes congregate for the winter, sometimes by the thousands. These look to me like prairie rattlers, the kind I mostly grew up with in Oklahoma. For more about rattlesnake denning, see The Red Hourglass

Bat Country, Part 1 of 2

Bat Country is now available in my new eBook, Nature Gothic: Best Wildlife Stories of Gordon Grice.

 In the clip above, James Addison Conrad reads a snatch of the story to get you in the mood.

Gordon Grice in This Land

Photo by Wayne T. Allison

The October 15 issue of This Land may be the best yet. I'm honored to be included with this eclectic crew. Here's the run-down from This Land's website:

This issue is downright bacchanalian, and we make no apologies for basking in lush, hedonistic glory. Coming up:
TOGETHER IN TULSA: Anna Kathleen Casey on Hannah and Chris Middlebrook, and the party animal that is “Clonky the Clown.”
GOODBYE TULSA:  Shawna Lewis on Elizabeth Ashwood Davis, a 34-year-old writer who died in her sleep.
    IMAGINARY OK: Author Steve Almond imagines himself as a rock legend looking back on his past.
    URBAN CHICKEN: Rebekah Greiman finds a few Tulsans fed up enough with food-source mystery to raise their own laying hens.
    POETRY: The Stringtown Prison Poetry Workshop presents a collaborative poem, “Stringtown Prison Blues.”
    VINTAGE SMITH: Mark Brown goes to Walla Walla, Washington, to find out why the hottest winemaker in America wears his love of Bob Wills and Woody Guthrie on his sleeve.
    DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Sarah Fonder talks to poet activist Mary McAnally about editing a book of prison poetry.
    TENT MAKERS AND PROPHETS: An excerpt on Oklahoma’s role in the rise of evangelical conservatism, by Darren Dochuk.
    SPORTS ILLUSTRATION: Jeremy Luther pays tribute to a defeated, but not dishonored, college football team.
    THE DARKNESS CANNOT OVERCOME THE LIGHT:  Josh Kline explains why an Edmond-based website on capnolagnia – a sexual fetish based on the sight or image of a person smoking – is among the Internet’s oldest.
    A KILLING: Gordon Grice dissects a couple’s profound love through the incident of a gut-shot deer.
    LET THEM BEAT CAKE: Natasha Ball examines the not-quite-cakes of Kerry Vincent’s annual cookoff, the Oklahoma Sugar Art Show.
    TRUE TULSA DOUBLE FEATURE: Grant McClintock shares two photographs of local artist Dan Mayo–one from 2011, and one from 1987.
That, plus the usual from design savante Carlos Knight and illustration wunderkind Jeremy Luther.

Australia: Great White Shark Kills American

Great white shark kills American man off the coast of western Australia:

"The first hint the recreational diver—whose name and hometown have not been made public yet –was in trouble occurred when a stream of bubbles were spotted at the surface nearby his dive boat.

His two terrified companions on the vessel said his lifeless body was seen shortly afterward, and a 10-foot shark was seen swimming away."

Advice to Ohioans: How to Avoid Animal Attacks

On the heels of the massive animal escape in Ohio, Men's Journal turned to your favorite nature writer for comfort and advice.

Advice to Ohioans: How to Avoid Animal Attacks | Men’s Journal:

"By the time you see a cougar, you’re probably already in trouble, says Grice. "

Photo by Hodari Nundu

Grice in The Times

Wednesday's edition of The Times (London) carried my article on hoofed animals and the people they trample. 

Man Beats Woman with Frozen Armadillo

This news item provides a nice coda to our investigation of armadillos:

Man Allegedly Beat Woman with Frozen Armadillo:

"The altercation occurred when the suspect was selling the carcass to the victim, who planned to eat the animal.

The pair apparently began arguing over the price of the item when the man twice threw the armadillo at the woman."

Armadillos and Leprosy (Conclusion)

Dead Armadillos
Not that they meant it this way:
mostly mammal, mostly blind,
bellies up, stinking of leprosy.

The way Rasputin’s mystical voice
led Annushka into his eyes
is how headlights lull armadillos.

They came to know the roar of full-lit ecstasy.

They fill our roadsides with their heaven.

--J. Rodney Karr*

Beginning of this story

Besides armadillos and mice, several other mammals had proved, or soon would prove, susceptible to injections of M. leprae—rats, hedgehogs, ground squirrels.  But scientists had always believed people were the only natural host for the microbe.  That’s why they were shocked by a 1975 report of leprosy in wild armadillos.

Several factors combined to make the situation seem like a horror story.  The wild leprous armadillos had turned up in Louisiana, not too far from the site of experiments by Storrs, Kirchheimer, and others.  The obvious inference was that experimental animals might have escaped, or at least that the carcasses of lab animals might have been cannibalized by wild armadillos.  If leprosy was new to the armadillo population, there was no way to know how fast it might spread between armadillos—or even into the human population.

At roughly the same time, the armadillo’s conquest of the United States was fast becoming familiar to the average American.  Newspapers reported the leprosy connection, creating the latest version of the deadly animal invasion story that seems to crop up with a different cast of characters every few years (black widow spiders, killer bees, and fire ants have all figured in similar scare-stories).  Finger-pointing among a few biologists didn’t help matters.

Armadillos dig for insects and carrion compulsively, and that trait had already given them a folkloric reputation as grave-robbers in parts of the south.  The possibility of armadillos having contracted leprosy from human corpses was an alternative to blaming the scientists—though not an attractive one, since either scenario left open the possibility that people might be in for a wave of disease.  Of course, scientists who worked with leprosy realized that its threat was minor.  Not only does the disease progress slowly, but it is frequently re-introduced to the United States by human immigrants without spreading widely.  These points were not always mentioned in the press.

Other developments complicated the story.  Chimpanzees came down with leprosy in 1977, as did sooty mangabey monkeys in 1981.  In both cases, the primates were lab animals, but not the subjects of leprosy experiments.  These discoveries, which suggested that leprosy might occur naturally in any number of nonhuman species, lent credence to the idea that armadillos might have carried the disease long before the species was used in leprosy research.  Whether wild primates get the disease outside labs is still hotly debated; skeptics think humans infected a few chimps and mangabeys somewhere in the process of capture or lab work. To add another layer of mystery, no one has yet observed leprosy transmitted between armadillos in captivity, but cage-mates of infected primates have come down with the disease.

In 1983, researchers reported leprosy in five people in Texas who had frequently handled armadillos.  It was impossible to prove that armadillos were the source of the infection, since even now no one is certain of the disease’s route of transmission, but the implication couldn’t be ignored.   Since then, armadillos have been implicated in a number of other human cases.  Why so many people would be handling armadillos puzzled me, since my only hands-on experience had been the ridiculous armadillo race. Truman resolved my confusion: “People do eat quite a lot of armadillo.”

Truman and his colleagues finally put the question of scientific culpability to rest in 1986.  They tested blood samples which had been drawn from armadillos in the early 1960s and kept frozen in a wildlife sera collection at Louisiana State ever since.  Truman’s group found some of these samples contained definitive evidence of M. leprae.  Since the samples predated the 1968 clinical work, Storrs and Kirchheimer and later leprosy researchers were off the hook.  They couldn’t have provided the first contact between M. leprae and wild armadillos.

But if scientists weren’t to blame, who was?  Leprosy is un-American; even today, Native Americans don’t seem to get it.  Truman and company looked into the distribution of the disease in the U.S. In both armadillos and people, the disease occurs most frequently in moist, low-lying areas.  So far, this generalization has held true for people on several continents. So perhaps M. leprae is hiding in some natural reservoir that occurs in such moist areas.  It’s already been established that the microbe can survive for several weeks in soil, but no one knows whether it typically does so.

Truman’s survey could hypothetically have revealed an origin point from which the disease was spreading.  In fact, leprosy turned out not to follow such a pattern.  No point of origin showed up.  The even distribution led Truman’s group to deduce that leprosy has been here a long time, in both humans and armadillos—maybe centuries. We’ll probably never knw when M. leprae arrived in America. Columbus’s invasion marks the earliest possible date. And after the disease arrived, it was only a matter of time until a cold and hungry mammal raided the wrong grave.

Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down.
--Elizabeth Bishop

A shorter version of this story originally appeared in Discover.

*J. Rodney Karr dedicates his poem to "all the little critters who have met their maker along America's highways and roads."

Armadillos and Leprosy (Part 2 of 3)

The Book of Deadly Animals makes its debut in the United Kingdom November 3. To celebrate, I'm running here some expanded versions of tales I told in the book. If you read the magazine version of this story, you've only seen about half of it; I've revisited this one to add more information and more of my first-hand experience with the animals. This is the director's cut.

Beginning of this story

My personal acquaintance with armadillos began at a freak show in the Oklahoma Panhandle in the early 1970s.  The show’s exhibits included a five-legged sheep, a three-legged chicken, a hairless Mexican “Elephant-dog,” and, at the curtained end of the tent, to be seen only after payment of an extra dollar, a pickled, two-headed human baby (“Born to live,” a taped voice kept saying, and when I asked my mother what that meant, she said we’d talk about it later, but we never have). And a Living Dinosaur.

Contrary to its billing, the Living Dinosaur was not actually alive.  Its desiccated carcass was glued to a felt-covered board.  A placard explained that this creature had existed “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” and had survived to the present day.  The placard didn’t make clear that the thing itself was not a dinosaur, despite its resemblance to a miniature triceratops.  It was, in fact, an armadillo.  A huge taxonomic blunder had been compounded with the slip of an era.

Nowadays, when armadillo knick-knacks litter eBay and caricatures of the animal have promoted everything from Lone Star beer to the professional baseball team of Amarillo, Texas, the “Living Dinosaur” fraud would fool nobody.  But in the early 1970s, armadillos were unknown in the Oklahoma Panhandle and most of the rest of the country, though they had long been familiar to people in south Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.  Since crossing the Rio Grande into the United States in the 1870s, armadillos have colonized most of the Southeast, their progress having only recently come to an apparent halt at the Rockies in the West and around the southern tip of Indiana in the north, where cold has barred them from further progress.

During the 1970s armadillos also colonized the consciousness of the American public, so that soon everybody seemed to know what one looked like.  In the early 1980s I ventured downstate to attend college at Stillwater, Oklahoma.  On my first trip there, though I no longer found armadillos exotic, I nonetheless found myself startled at the sight of several hundred dead ones.  They littered the road and the right of way.  The day was hot, and many of the carcasses had bloated, their legs jutting at forty-five degree angles.  One in particular caught my eye: a car tire had halved it as neatly as a ripe watermelon.

This mini-apocalypse points to two interesting armadillo behaviors.  One is a defensive tactic: when threatened, an armadillo springs straight up.  This move is effective against most predators, but suicidal against cars.  The other behavior is dietary: armadillos eat carrion, including dead armadillos, and the grubs and maggots they find therein.  So a highway strewn with kindred carcasses apparently strikes an armadillo as an irresistible feast.

The armadillo family tree includes a number of interesting branches, including about twenty extant species in South America.  Some of them look like opossums that have tumbled through a dryer’s fluff cycle.  

Among their ancestors are an extinct North American species that weighed five or six hundred pounds.  Their nearest relatives are the anteaters and sloths, with which they share some extra flexibility in the spine and a lack of well-developed, specialized teeth.  The only armadillo found in the United States in modern times is the nine-banded species, so called because accordion folds in the middle of its back join the shell-like sections fore and aft.  The armor is made of ossified skin.  It’s not hard like a tortoise’s shell; it’s more like stiff leather.  The head and limbs sport plates of this armor as well.

Its unusual architecture causes the armadillo to copulate in the missionary position.  Its young are normally identical quadruplets all wrapped in the same placenta, though occasionally it produces eight or twelve identical young.  The fertilized armadillo egg can lie in its mother’s reproductive tract for up to three years, bathed in nourishing fluids, before implanting.  Some female armadillos, having mated only once, give birth to separate litters in successive years.

The armadillo’s oddities don’t stop there.  It can gulp air until its digestive tract balloons, making its heavy body light enough to swim.  Alternatively, it can stay deflated and walk underwater, holding its breath for as long as six minutes.  It doesn’t roll into a ball when attacked, as some of its southern relatives do, but it can plug a burrow entrance with its armored back and thrust its claws into the dirt so that it’s almost impossible to remove.  One authority claims a person can induce an armadillo to relax its grip by inserting a finger into its rectum, but I have not personally verified this fact.

One fact I have verified is that armadillos don’t do well in captivity.  When I was in college my dorm competed in an armadillo race.  It was, if memory serves, part of a festival involving a pie-in-the-face auction and other such revelry.  My dorm-mates and I went into the country a week or so before the event to capture our entrant.  We went at night and took flashlights.  A few miles out of town, we could actually hear the animals crashing around in a wash where people had dumped their trash.  When a flashlight beam caught one, it paused, then turned with surprising grace and fled.  It ran faster than I had expected, its pill-bug body scooting along like a drop of water sliding down a window pane, but its erratic course allowed us to catch up.  The guy who grabbed it uttered increasingly vile profanity as the armadillo bruised his gut with stiff kicks.  A flashlight beam showed the claws drawing a flurry of down from the guy’s vest.

Once we had the armadillo back to the dorm, it stayed in our rooms.  Whoever had it would go sleepless, because the thing wandered around all night, knocking over furniture and smacking into walls.  We fed it an assortment of leftovers smuggled from the cafeteria; it particularly liked cantaloupe.  We won the race by default because no one else bothered to catch an armadillo.  Afterwards, we let ours go.  No one had intentionally mistreated it, but its tail had somehow become ringed with wicked black wounds.

Though we didn’t mean to be, we were cruel to capture the armadillo.  We didn’t know that captive armadillos may sleep around the clock, like human victims of depression, or refuse food and water.  The males may dehydrate themselves by zealously scent-marking their cages with urine.  The captives may suffer from boils or constipation. If several are caged together, they lick each other’s wounds, keeping them open and weeping.  Sometimes the licking turns to cannibalism. And they seldom breed in captivity, so armadillo colonies like the one at LSU have to be replenished with frequent new captures.  Truman regularly sends his graduate students into the woods near Baton Rouge for more armadillos.

Such were the problems Storrs and Kirchheimer had to overcome in 1968, when they attempted to inoculate armadillos with M. leprae.  Not only did the armadillos get leprosy, they got it more thoroughly than any human being ever had.  Organs that remain untouched in the worst human cases were loaded with bacilli in the armadillos.  With their twelve-year life-spans—much longer than those of mice and rabbits—the armadillos lived long enough to develop full-blown cases.  This complete susceptibility is the reason armadillos remain the animal of choice for leprosy research.  It comes down to numbers: an armadillo yields one million times more of the M. leprae bacilli than a mouse footpad.


The Book of Deadly Animals (US)
Deadly Animals (UK)

Armadillos and Leprosy (Part 1 of 3)

The Book of Deadly Animals makes its debut in the United Kingdom November 3. To celebrate, I'm running here some expanded versions of tales I told in the book. If you read the magazine version of this story, you've only seen about half of it; I've revisited this one to add more information and more of my first-hand experience with the animals. This is the director's cut.

Dr. Richard Truman and I dressed in gowns, disposable booties, masks, and rubber gloves.  Then we opened a door and stepped into an odor Truman had warned me about.  It was something like a diaper pail and quite a bit like sour milk.  I was glad for the mask.

The room was full of cement runs – walls about four feet high, forming rectangular pens about six by three feet.  The cement floors were littered with sawdust.  The dishes for food and water were just like those one might provide for a dog or cat—in fact, the food included cat chow—but the residents here were nine-banded armadillos.  An ordinary plastic kitchen trash can lay in each run to serve as a burrow.

Truman, a tall, soft-spoken man whose silver hair didn’t match his youthful face, asked a lab assistant to roust one armadillo from its sawdust.  The animal looked like an inverted bronze gravy boat with a head and tail.  The assistant gripped it at the back of the neck and the back of the tail—pretty much the only option if you want to avoid an armadillo’s impressive digging claws.  Truman let me hold the thing.  Excluding the tail, it was about the size of a football, but heavier than your average cat.  It wriggled and flexed, kicking with all four feet.  Its pink belly was studded with protuberances from which tufts of hair sprouted.  These structures, Truman said, have a sensory function.

After that brief hands-on encounter, Truman asked the assistant to put the armadillo back.  They’re sensitive animals, poorly suited to captivity, and too much human handling can prove fatal for them.  I was, in fact, allowed to see only the healthy armadillos at Louisiana State University, home to the Laboratory Research Branch of the G. W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center, and those only with strict sanitary controls.  The ones with leprosy were strictly off-limits—I was more dangerous to them as a source of secondary infections than they were to me.

I was there to learn about two mysterious organisms, both poorly understood even after centuries of contact with people.  One, of course, is the armadillo; the other is Mycobacterium leprae, the microorganism responsible for leprosy.  Truman and other researchers are using the former to study the latter.  What they’ve discovered so far is a lesson in the complexity of the natural world.


The symptoms of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, start in the nerves.  Patches of skin lose feeling.  For some people, that’s as far as it goes.  For others, things get much worse.  Grainy, ulcerating lesions appear on the hands, feet, and back, and, in men, the testicles.  Nerves degenerate, causing the glands that oil the skin to stop working.  The skin cracks, leaving the extremities vulnerable to secondary infections.  People lose fingers and toes—not because of the disease itself, but because they don’t notice that they’re too close to a fire or that rats are nibbling at them.  The dead nerves create an array of odd postures—the claw-hand, the staring eye that cannot be closed.  The respiratory system is invaded; a slimy discharge issues from the nose.  The eyes succumb to infection and eventually to blindness.  The disease progresses slowly, the first lesion following the actual infection by three years or more, the worst manifestations developing years after that.  But these horrific symptoms occur in only a tiny minority of those infected, and most people are not susceptible to infection at all.  “M. leprae is almost the perfect parasite,” Truman said, because it so rarely destroys its host, and then only very slowly.

The skulls of four Egyptians from the second century BCE have curious deformities.  Certain parts of the face seem to have eroded before death.  These skulls are the oldest hard evidence of leprosy, one of the oldest human diseases.  Detailed descriptions of symptoms in various documents push our known contacts with leprosy back even further, to about 600 BCE.  Beyond that, the vagueness of historical descriptions becomes a problem.  There are accounts of a leprosy-like disease invading Egypt from the Sudan during the reign of Ramses II.  The disease mentioned with such horror in the Bible may not be the same thing as modern leprosy—its symptoms are only vaguely alluded to, and sometimes it seems not even to be a disease as we understand the idea, but sin figuratively described.  If the biblical references are to a literal skin-mottling disease, some commentators find smallpox a more likely candidate.

But it’s certain that genuine leprosy has peeked into human history at odd junctures, as when the soldiers of Alexander the Great conquered the East and brought back silks, spices, and the disease.  Europeans came back from the crusades infected—a public relations problem for the Church, since the crusades were supposed to be a holy war, and leprosy appeared to place God on the other side.  For a few centuries, lepers’ homes existed throughout Europe.  Leprosy’s decline as a major health problem on that continent coincided with the Black Death, which tended to kill the inmates of lepers’ homes and thus break the mysterious chain of transmission for the older disease.  But elsewhere in the world, leprosy has never lost its hold.  Half a million new cases appear annually, and the total number of people afflicted is at least ten million. India and Brazil currently have especially severe leprosy problems, but the disease occurs virtually everywhere in the world, including about 6000 cases currently in the United States.

The notion that leprosy is contagious has been around for at least 2500 years, but a competing hypothesis blamed heredity.  It made some sense: relatives of lepers proved more likely than others to become lepers themselves. Western science dropped the hereditary theory in the 1880s, when a missionary named Father Damien, who had a well-documented and leprosy-free family background, was revealed to have caught the disease while working with lepers on Molokai. By that time, a Norwegian doctor named Armauer Hansen had discovered Mycobacterium leprae, the organism that causes the disease. The nasal secretions of people with severe cases carry enormous quantities of M. leprae, and many physicians and researchers assume that the microbe infects new victims through the respiratory system or through open wounds. Hansen immediately recognized the importance of cultivating M. leprae for study, but he found he couldn’t keep the bacterium alive in a dish.  Even now, no one has succeeded in cultivating it outside a warm body.  “It starts to die as soon as it’s out of the tissue,” said James Krahenbuhl, Truman’s colleague at the G. W. Long Hansen’s Disease Center.  Hansen tried to infect rabbits with M. leprae, but it didn’t take.

In 1956, Chapman H. Binford, having noted that leprosy attacks the coolest areas of the human body, suggested that lab animals might be susceptible to infection in their cooler regions.  By 1960, C. C. Sheppard had successfully inoculated the footpads of mice.  Soon mouse footpads and hamster ears were yielding fresh supplies of M. leprae, though never in the quantities needed for effective leprosy research.  The fresh cadavers of infected humans remained the best source for the microbes.

Then the team of Wally Kirchheimer and Eleanor Storrs noticed that armadillos are cool all over.  At 30-35 degrees Celsius, armadillos run several degrees cooler than typical mammals.  The animal’s armor probably has something to do with its low temperature; it certainly makes the armadillo a poor regulator of body temperature, as mammals go.


The Book of Deadly Animals (US)
Deadly Animals (UK)

A different version of this story originally appeared in Discover.

Crazy Ants Invade US

Interesting item: Crazy ants have moved north to colonize parts of the US. They've wiped out the imported fire ants in some regions. Animal invasions are nothing new, but we may see more of them as the globe warms and more northerly regions take on tropical or semi-tropical temperatures.

Hairy, crazy ants invade from Texas to Miss. - Yahoo! News:

"A camper's metal walls bulge from the pressure of ants nesting behind them. A circle of poison stops them for only a day, and then a fresh horde shows up, bringing babies. Stand in the yard, and in seconds ants cover your shoes.
It's an extreme example of what can happen when the ants — which also can disable huge industrial plants — go unchecked. "

Walrus Invasion

The US Geological Survey has recorded some 20 thousand walruses ashore on the coast of Alaska. Most of them should be on ice floes drifting over the continental shelf, where they can dive for clams and sea worms. The trouble is, global warming has melted a lot of the ice. This is not a good sign for the walruses or the rest of us.

Piranhas Bite More Than 100 People in One Weekend

Alexdi/Creative Commons

The article below points out the interesting relationship between piranhas and certain other fish--each serving as both predator and prey for the other. Human fingers and toes get involved as well.

Piranhas attack beach in Brazil: 100 swimmers bitten in 1 weekend | Mail Online:

"A lake used by swimmers in Brazil has been attacked by piranhas that have injured more than 100 people.

Visitors to the inland Barragem do Bezerro dam, close to the town of Jose de Freitas in the Piaui province, were left with bitten heels and toes "

Same Grizzly Linked to Two Yellowstone Fatalities

The bear that killed Brian Matayoshi in July is now known to have visited the site where another park visitor died and was eaten by bears in August. Because many bears scavenged the body in the August incident, there's no way to know if this particular bear killed the man.

Yellowstone Bear Euthanized After DNA Evidence Links Two Fatal Attacks -

"Brian Matayoshi, 58, of Torrance, Calif., was confirmed killed by the female bear near the Wapiti Lake Trailhead on July 6 (Land Letter, Sept. 22). Less than two months later, on Aug. 26, hikers found the mauled body of John Wallace, 59, of Chassell, Mich., on the Mary Mountain trail roughly eight miles away from the first attack.

DNA evidence obtained from hair and scat samples taken at the scene of the August attack showed the bear was at the site of the second attack and may have scavenged Wallace's remains."

Mule Deer and Red Hartebeest Maulings

A mule deer launched an unprovoked attack on a woman taking a walk in rural Idaho. The article linked below emphasizes the possibility that the deer may have been domesticated, though there seems to be no evidence of that beyond its aggressive behavior. It's more likely the deer was in an aggressive mood because it's time for bucks to duel for mates. (The article mentions two other deer nearby; probably these two were involved in its excitement.) You and I know a human isn't interested in this buck's love life, but deer aren't as sharp as we are. Bending over to pick up a weapon was the last straw: to a deer, that looks like lowering the head for a charge.

Mule deer attacks woman near Preston - Mule deer attacks woman near Preston: Local

"The deer knocked her to the ground. At that point, the buck began raking her body with his antlers, scratching and digging at her legs and back. Panter played dead, hoping that her lack of response would discourage the deer. But as the deer gored her in the legs three times and pummeled her upper body, Panter knew she had to fight back. She grabbed the deer’s antlers and fought to keep the animal’s head away from her face and neck.

"Scott Panter, Sue’s spouse, said that his wife was trying to keep herself in plain sight on the roadway during the struggle. “She felt that if she got pushed off the road and into the cornfield, no one would see her struggling or even know she was there,” "

Related Post: White-tailed Deer Attacks

Meanwhile, in South Africa, a competitive bicyclist ran afoul of a red hartebeest. Here's the video:


Kangaroo Attacks 80-Year-Old Man

Attacks like the one described below occasionally happen with wild kangaroos in Australia. This one involved a captive and his keeper.

Kangaroo attacks 80-year-old man - "An 80-year-old man suffered injuries in an attack by a kangaroo he was feeding at an exotic animal farm in Ohio, officials said.

John Kokas was kicked and knocked to the ground by the 3-year-old kangaroo"

Photography by Dee Puett

Hendra Virus Outbreak in Australia

Hendra Outbreak Attacks Queensland and NSW | News Tonight Africa

In Australia, an outbreak of Hendra virus has put horses and humans in danger, as detailed in the link above. Hendra is a Paramyxovirus found in bats.

Paramyxoviruses cause such human diseases as mumps and measles and such animal ailments as distemper, Rinderpest, and Newcastle disease. In recent years three more paramyxoviruses have emerged as threats to human health:

Hendra virus was formerly known as Equine morbillivirus. The natural reservoir for this virus appears to be fruit bats of the genus Pteropus. Through some route not yet identified, it occasionally passes to horses, causing a small outbreak of pneumonia. Human handlers have caught the disease from horses in a handful of cases. A few have died. People do not seem to get the disease directly from the bats, even when handling them. Scientists have recently diagnosed a case in a dog that lived on the same property as some infected horses. 

Nipah virus also occurs in Pteropus bats. It has emerged as yet another consequence of human hunger. As farms expand into previously unsettled areas of Malaysia, India, and Bangladesh, domestic pigs come into contact with the feces of fruit bats and with fallen fruit from which the bats have eaten. The pigs contract the virus, which causes them to get sick with respiratory symptoms. Humans who contact the pigs have come down with similar symptoms in some outbreaks; in others, encephalitis has been the main manifestation of the disease. A 1999 outbreak in Malaysia killed 105 people. Half a dozen other outbreaks are on record, some of them killing 75 percent of known victims. A few single cases have also been documented. Once the virus crosses into human populations, it can spread directly between people. There’s good evidence that some people have caught the disease from fruit contaminated by the bats themselves. Other bats besides the Pteropids carry the virus, but so far no evidence has linked them to human cases of the disease.

Menangle virus also has a reservoir in bats and has proved capable of infecting pigs. In 1977 it made two Australian farm workers seriously sick with respiratory symptoms. 

Photo: Paul Asman/Jill Lenoble: Creative Commons

Diana Nyad vs. The Cnidarians

By now I'm sure everyone who's interested has heard about Diana Nyad's failed attempt at swimming from Cuba to Florida. The animals that stopped her with their paralyzing stings have been variously identified as Portuguese men-of-war (by Nyad herself in the video above) and box jellyfish. The man-of-war isn't technically a jellyfish, but a colony of hydroids. In The Book of Deadly Animals, I reported that at least three people have died from their stings. That's a tiny percentage, but pretty much everyone agrees the stings are painful. As for box jellyfish: many different species exist, some of them among the most toxic animals in the world, others not so dangerous to people. 

All of these creatures--Portuguese men-of-war and other hydroids, and box jellyfish, plus the not-suspected-in-this-case true jellyfish and sea anemones--are members of a group called cnidarians. They all have stinging cells they use for self-defense and to help them kill prey. Nyad and her fellow humans are too large to serve as their prey, but these guys literally have no brain and aren't aware of their limitations. On the other hand, Nyad herself speaks of dreaming beyond one's expectations. It sounds inspiring when she says it, not so much when the cnidarians do it. 

Related Post: Giant Jellyfish Attacks New Hampshire

Great White Shark Attacks Man, Bites Off His Legs

The video shows the shark that attacked a British tourist in South Africa.

Shark attack: Brit loses both legs after savage attack in South Africa - video -

""On arrival, a 42-year-old man was found on the shore suffering complete amputation of his right leg, above the knee, and partial amputation of his left leg, below the knee.

"The man was conscious when paramedics attended to him on the beach"

Dog Bites Off Woman's Face; Leeches Help Reattach It It

Medicinal Leech (Credit: H. Krisp/Creative Commons)

Leeches are frequently used in reattachment operations. Their saliva helps fight clots and infections, as well as restore circulation. 

Swedish surgeons reattach woman's face using 358 leeches after horrific dog attack | Mail Online:

"Swedish surgeons have used hundreds of leeches to help reconstruct a woman’s face that was bitten off during a horrific dog attack.

The woman, from the south of the country, had a huge proportion of her face bitten off in the mauling by her own dog, spanning from her upper lip all the way to her eye.

As she was rushed to hospital last month, her relatives who were with her at the time, managed to recover the loose skin and keep it chilled.
They quickly arrived at Skane University Hospital in Malmo with the flesh, which was able to be re-attached with the help of 358 leeches.
During the procedure, the specialists used the leeches to force blood to flow into the damaged skin.
The leeches helped re-start circulation through their sucking and blood-thinning fluids."

Cicada Country

A cicada emerges from pupation. Photography by D'Arcy Allison-Teasley. Music by Incorporal Air. 

Cicada Country
(a memory of my hometown)

Summer mornings I often found gargoyles newly risen from subterranean sleep.  They would climb the fence before the heat rose and then, their pupal shells splitting down the back, emerge from themselves in a final molt.

They sunned their crimped, wet wings, their greens drying and browning to match the short grass. Then they'd leave their shells on the weathered wood and take flight.  I wouldn't often see them after that, but some days when I woke they'd been screaming so long it sounded like silence. 

That arid country had, thanks to humans and their imported trees, become the cicadas'.  They marked the territory with their bullet-hole burrows, their discarded shells.  One morning I found a wing on my porch making a filigreed gesture of light with its veins.  I held it to my eye like a monocle to see it slice the world into raindrops.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...