Monday, August 04, 2008

My Wild Weekend

I could probably split this up into two posts, but seeing how I've got a big work project lined up this week I figured I'd go ahead and put everything in this one.

I had a great weekend. Very exciting. Well, very exciting if you like snakes and spiders. Yesterday Larry, Lucas and Alex and I went over to my friend April's farm for a spider hunt featured in the short video at the top of this page.

Readers of my blog may remember this photo tribute I did to my buddy April's farm just after Easter. I just love April, and have more fun with her than I could ever relate here. Like me, April has lots of critters. And in the summer that includes an enviable population of Golden Silk spiders - enviable enough to share with her spider-loving friend. This huge female was by her mom's house and had about five males in the web with her.

OK. So maybe it sounds crazy but I did not take this particular Nephila home, although I dearly wanted to. I picked up major Queen vibes from her and felt like it would be an affront to her arachnid dignity to relocate her and her court. No need to invoke Bad Spider Karma. So the Queen and her suitors stayed put.

But as you can see from the video I collected plenty of others, and Alex caught a few herself! After we got back home we relocated them all around our yard. Some went in the banana grove, some on the kiwi vines out back, some in the tall pines by the barn and some in the Lady Banks rose by the house. Later today Lucas and Alex and I shall go on another spider hunt to see if we can spot their golden webs.

Yes, the spider hunt was exciting. But not quite as exciting as the unplanned snake hunt the day before. Larry was outside at around 10 a.m. on Saturday when our sheepdog Nikki began barking like mad. Nikki is a very reasonable dog and doesn't bark unless something is bark-worthy. When Larry walked over to where she was standing by the building he found she'd hemmed in this 4-1/2 foot canebrake rattlesnake.

Larry caught her with the snake tongs and put her in a cage, where she'll stay until we can take her down to the game lands and release her. The snake was pissed, but you'd be pissed too if you were pregnant and had your rat dinner interrupted by an abduction. The new accommodations didn't thrill her either. But the close quarters gave me a chance to show you all what an aroused rattler looks like before it strikes. If you see one in this position, best back away because that's exactly what you're being advised to do.

I stopped photographing her after she struck at me, not because I was afraid but because I didn't want her to hurt herself striking the glass front of the cage. But in this following photo I did get a cool shot of the venom running down the glass. You might want to click on it to get the best view.

This isn't the biggest snake Larry has caught on the property. A couple of years ago Larry caught this big male out by the dog pen:

I probably need to digress a moment to say that while I have nothing against Meterosexual Males, they are completely useless if you've got giant rattlesnakes in your yard. That kind of dilemma calls for a Real Man. And Larry is about as real as they get. Did I mention he makes his own bullets, too? Well he does. What a guy.

I think Lucas might want to be like him. After coming outside for the obligatory viewing of the snake and a Don't-Touch-These-If-You-See-Them-In-The-Yard speech, Lucas practiced his skills with the snake tongs. That's my boy...

Arachno-Update: Lucas rushed in earlier to inform me that he found the Nephila we released in the kiwi vines and that she'd molted and was being bred. (Don't freak out; such talk is common for farm kids.) I went outside, camera in hand and he was exactly right. Maximize the picture to see the little male on the female. The molt is hanging underneath her in the web. She's doubled in size!

Another Nephila has staked out a place in the barn, right in the corner of Luna's stall. Right now she's hanging out in some old barn spider webbing but she looks busy so I'm optimistic that she'll set up one of her own. She sure won't lack for food; I just hope Minerva won't be too upset about the competition.


laughingwolf said...

great flick, and snake stuff... love it all :)

Morgan said...

Thanks, Wuff! But what's this I hear about your getting hurt? I likes my wuffs to be safe. ;-)

Christopher said...

Whenever my neighbor finds a snake in her garden she calls me. It's always a garter snake and it's probably always the same garter snake. Regardless of what it is, though, I'd rather rescue it than let her kill it.
And is it just me or is there something just wonderful about the name Nephila?

Morgan said...

Well good for you, Christopher. You too are a real man, and a real man with a brain. Bonus!
I'm pleased that you've come to your neighbor's rescue so many times. Garter snakes are fine neighbors, after all. ;-)
I love the name Nephila, too. Perhaps because it is so regal, like Nephretiti!

Christopher said...

Aw, shucks, it's not like I make my own bullets or anything.
Thanks for reminding me, though, why I've always loved the story of Arachne. It always tickles me to think that spiders started as a woman who was better than the gods--even if it was just at weaving. I look at spiders and see beauty, intelligence, and that special arrogance that comes from really being exceptional.

Morgan said...

So many people attribute spiders' (and other animals') action to mindless instinct. But it's hard to observe a spider like I did with Octavia a couple of years ago and not see something beyond rote animal actions.

The biggest prey she ever killed was a giant locust, and it was like Clash of the Titans. It took her a long time to subdue it, and there was danger for her because the locust could still kick and bite. Octavia prevailed, but was wounded in the process. The struggle itself was something to see, with the grasshopper fighting the web and Octavia taking obvious note of which way to attack.

Larry says I'm being anthropomorphic, but I don't think so. I think we humans are a bit elitist somethings, thinking as we do that we alone possess the power to reason. Animals reason, too, but in a different way from we humans I suppose.

I think the writers of those Greek myths were on to something, fashioning a god from the spider. I think they were on to something indeed.

thimscool said...

Bananas and kiwis? Zone 8 must be nice... although I confess my viking blood wouldn't last down here without A/C.

At the risk of getting shunned or cursed, I'll confess that I've killed a couple of copperheads around here.

I don't go looking for them or anything, but in both cases my cats had them surrounded and they were very close to the house. One time, the snake was under Nicole's vehicle, and I just had this vision of her getting freaked, dropping Rosemary, and having my baby girl perforated by a startled viper.

I figure they need to stay away from my suburban home, and then I won't mess with them. Am I being overly dramatic? Should I just let them be?

I'm damn sure not gonna capture and release them, so it's either the shovel or I ignore them... somehow the latter seems wrong. What say ye?

thimscool said...

Oh, and I should mention that I defend most snakes and enjoy their presence.

If I don't see the wide, flat head and the distinctive camouflage marking, I will call Atticus over to have a look and shoe away the cats if they try to mess with it.

My cats are too well fed to be very accomplished mousers, so I like having snakes about to keep the pests in check. Besides, they are beautiful and fascinating.

Morgan said...

Don't feel bad about the copperhead thing. Larry and I have agreed to disagree on my assertion that if a rattlesnake showed up that was too big for me to safely catch and he was away from the house I'd shoot it, simply because they are so dangerous.

Copperheads are not so dangerous, although most people don't realize that. The bite is exceedingly painful, but I've never heard of a fatality from one. In fact, our corgi, Sport (the one on my title page) got bitten in the face last year by a three-footer. His head started to swell like a balloon but after a teaspoon of Benadryl he was back to playing fetch an hour later. Cricket, his daughter, got bitten on the lip two years ago and was less tolerant of the pain. She spent the night whimpering under the bed but suffered no lasting effects.

The really bad ones are the rattlesnakes and the cottonmouths and when identifying any viper just remember to look for two things - elliptical pupils and a heat-sensing pit between the nostril and the eye. Most folks don't get that close, but if you do kill a snake and want to be sure that it was a viper, those are the hallmarks.

It's easy to keep them away. Just remove the things they need - cover, food source and water. Don't have too many bird feeders since those things draw mice. Ditto with large wood piles. Keep shrubs trimmed so there's not a bunch of low-hanging branches. Take up kitty's water. Little things like that make a big difference.

And remember that it is true what they say - the snakes are as afraid of you as you are of them. That's why snakes shake their tail when scared; it's a warning. And it's not just rattlers that do it. Rattlers just make more noise because they have a rattle.

All in all, I like snakes too. But I'm not quite so fond of them as Larry. I get miffed when water snakes help themselves to the koi in my pond or when ratsnakes scarf down a whole clutch of wrens just as they are about to leave the birdhouse in my garden. I've been known to grab the offender (if it's not venomous) and tell it off before flinging it over the fence. Not that it matters, though. Snakes are deaf. But it makes me feel better.

Oh, and one more thing. Technically we are Zone 7. But Larry's been growing kiwis and bananas here for quite some time now. That's what he specializes in at the farmer's market, and we even know people in Raleigh who grow beautiful bananas in their yards.

thimscool said...

No shit? Bananas in Raleigh. The way it feels around here these days I can believe it, but I wonder how they survive the frost.

Well, maybe I'll just move the copperheads along with a long stick then.

I've never seen a rattlesnake around here, but I hear that water moccasins (cottonmouths ?) are common. I generally take the approach of making a fair amount of noise when I go walking along streams, but I guess they can't hear me anyways, huh. So much for that theory. Who knows how many foxes, dear, etc. I've scared off that way? Oh well. Maybe I kept myself from being mauled by a bear.

Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morgan said...

Blogger Morgan said...

Many bananas are hardy down to below freezing. The trick is to protect the trunk in the winter. We advise people to top off the banana and wrap the trunk in burlap and Christmas tree lights. Or build a basket around it and fill it with mulch. That provides adequate protection until the last frost when it's safe to uncover it. Larry's folks live in Baltimore and his brother has some beautiful bananas Larry gave him that come back every year.

About the cottonmouths, as a general rule they don't hang out beside streams. They like stagnant water, like swamps and farm ponds and the like. If you see a snake along a river or stream, it's usually one of N.C.'s three varieties of water snakes. Of course, there are exceptions. We have seen cottonmouths on the Cape Fear, but it's rare.

My advise for hiking is to walk softly and carry a big stick. That way you can see your deer and foxes and move aside any snakes you encounter with the stick. Not that you'll need it. Generally they make a hasty retreat when they feel the vibration of your feet, and you don't have to really stomp for them to detect your presence.

An FYI, though. Cottonmouths are much more likely to stand their ground and will thrash around and gape open their mouths. The inside is pale, hence the "cottonmouth" name. Their bite is bad news, so if you ever see one acting in that manner get away ASAP. You don't want any part of that.

And if I'm coming across as an insufferable know-it-all, please tell me. I really like talking about this stuff, oddly enough.

Lu' said...

I'm not creeped out by your spiders, how could one be, the way you speak about them. I dug the snake pics. My man is a snake-a phobe, but he makes his own bullets too :)

thimscool said...

An insufferable know it all? Hardly. You speak with authority based on experience, and there is nothing wrong with that. I expected to be dressed down, and I'm happy to be educated.

I did a little more research into snakes and their behavior this evening. I was fascinated to learn that the species we've been discussing tonight are born live... I always thought that reptiles lay eggs exclusively.

Lu' said...

I don't think you speak like a know-it-all. You speak with passion and clarity, let's not forget knowledge; I like it.

Anonymous said...

Nice post although I like the horses more than the spiders and is that a tattoo on your arm? If so what is it? I can't make it out in the video.

Christopher said...

Let me second Thimscool's comment that you're not coming across as "an insufferable know-it-all", you're sharing knowledge and experience, and some of us are really enjoying it. As for anyone who doesn't like it, well, they shouldn't be here reading.
I've had close encounters with copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. In each case I was happy to leave 'em alone--and they probably appreciated that too.
As for anthropomorphizing spiders, I know there's a South American wasp that lays its eggs in the brain of a species of orb weaver. When the egg hatches the wasp larva takes over the spider's brain and makes it build a cocoon where the larva will eventually pupate. It also slowly eats the spider. Well, it doesn't really have anything to do with anthropomorphizing, but the idea of one creature so completely enslaving another seriously disturbs me. I have no qualms about killing wasps because they just seem unnecessarily vicious.

Morgan said...

Thanks to Luke, Lu and Christopher for the reassurances that I'm not coming across as preachy. I feel really the Cosmos has smiled on me to have provided so many experiences to enjoy nature so completely. I see sharing as a way of giving back, but get a bit enthusiastic about it at times.

Anon, the tattoo is a barn owl. I got it last year. It seemed the most benign way to celebrate my impending mid-life. Wes, my 21-year-old son went with me when I got it, and that made it even more special. It has special significance, given that I've spent the last fourteen years working with injured birds of prey. I've had so many sit on my right arm and fly off to freedom. I wanted one that wouldn't leave me.

Christopher, that story about the parasitic wasp gave me the shudders. It would make a good plot for a horror movie, although I guess the Alien trilogy kind of copped that concept.

We have a number of parasitic wasps here. Alex saw one attacking a wolf spider (sorry) in the drive. We have another kind that lays its eggs on hornworms. I know it's jus part of nature, but when I see a deflated, spasming hornworm with wasp larvae chewing out from the inside I can't help but think that is a wretched way to die.

Christopher said...

I wish I could remember the name of the essay or even which book it's in, but Stephen Jay Gould has written about the wasps that lay their eggs in hornworms as one of the rare examples in nature of one animal being truly cruel to another (humans notwithstanding). He knows it's anthropomorphizing, but the wasp larva is inflicting what must be absolutely excruciating pain on the hornworm.
Wasps truly are the skinheads of the insect world.

Morgan said...

Maybe I'm the pot calling the kettle black, but I kind of see that as a wee bit anthropomorphic. I don't know if larvae are sentient enough to realize they're causing the hornworm pain. The eggs are laid and they hatch into a the hornworm's body, which to them is just a gelatinous, fleshy mass of food.
Now the wasp? You gotta wonder if it knows. Wasps are kind of like skinheads. Hornets are really brutal. There's a National Geographic special that runs now and then on Japanese hornets that attack bee colonies. They wait at the hive and behead every bee that emerges, then take the bee larvae back to their nest to feed the emerging hornet larvae.
People who romanticize nature as being all goodness and light don't know it very well. Nature's law may be simple, but it is seldom kind.

thimscool said...

I disturbed a hornet's nest under my gas grill cover, while pressure washing the patio a couple of weeks ago.

Five of them immediately moved in to attack me. But as I backed away, I realized I was still holding the wand from the pressure washer, on wide-beam. I swung it around and took out the first squad, while their brothers were still emerging from the nest. Then I switched to pencil-beam mode and showed them what 2200psi to face feels like.

For the next twenty minutes, while I finished off the patio, the wasps that had been scattered kept returning to attack. But I was ready for them, and had a good ol' time showing them the wonders of modern technology. I did not get stung once, which is fortunate because they looked like some mean bastards. I hate hornets. What purpose do they serve?

I really got my money's worth from that pressure washer. That was better than playing the Wii! And cheaper too. Made me want to seek out more hornets or maybe some yellow jackets. But there were none within reach of the extension cord.

Morgan said...

Luke...dude. That would have made the most awesome video. I could see it now -- you in the driveway waving the pressure sprayer wand like a light saber while that beautiful wife huddles with the two beautiful kids behind you.

The hornets would be all like, "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz!" And you'd be all like, "Bring it on, bitches!!!"

So I'm taking Larry's Real Man title and giving it to you. Because I'm telling you right now that fighting off hornets with a pressure sprayer is something that neither of us would even attempt to do.

That's the best story ever! Because like you I can't think of any use for hornets. Unless you consider chasing me a use.

thimscool said...


I'm flattered and all, but I think that photo of Larry with the rattlesnake in hand says all we need to know.

I'll take the insects, he'll take the vipers, and you can fight off the True Christians™ and other assorted asshats.

Together we can make our realm safe for hiking, cookouts, and free-thinking. Hoo yah!

Morgan said...

ROFL! I hadn't thought about my bout with the True Christians™ in some time. It's why i started hunting spiders - better personalities and far more challenging.

laughingwolf said...

thx hon, fell off boulder to rocks below... nothing broken/fractured... hurts worst to sneeze, also just trying to lie down...

Christopher said...

Just to clarify what Gould was saying, he never thought of the wasp larva is being intentionally cruel, but most predators and even parasites don't subject their prey or hosts to long-term excruciating pain. With the wasp larvae it's nothing personal, and they're probably not aware of it, but, for all that nature is unkind, such behavior is rare. It makes sense, though: the hornworm has no defenses, so there's no reason for the larva to waste unnecessary energy being unobtrusive, the way most parasites do.
thimscool, you're my hero. I've shot wasps and big hornets out of the air with bug spray and even flattened them with my bare foot, but I've never taken on a whole nest. That's impressive.

Morgan said...

Oh, my dear Wuff. I'm sorry you fell but glad that nothing got broken. Having spent the best days of last surgery recuperating from that shattered ankle, I know all too well how inconvenient such things can be.

Morgan said...

Gotcha, Christopher. I haven't read the Gould piece and misinterpreted what you'd said. Thanks for the clarification.
Usually kills are pretty efficient, but animals can and do kill cruelly or mindlessly. I've had friends who lost several dozen chickens in one night to single coyotes that couldn't possibly eat them all. And male lions regularly kill cubs sired by other males to bring the females back in estrus. Of course, this seems cruel based on OUR ethics. Perhaps that's anthropomorphic of us. After all, animals may have their own ethics.
On an unrelated note, Christopher, I tried leaving a comment on your blog yesterday but the comment interface did not seem to like me. I was remarking on your post about erotic vs. esoteric, and wanted to let you know that as a professional writer of erotica, I've written pieces that are both erotic AND esoteric!
I do so love your blog, by the way. May I link to it? Please?

Christopher said...

Morgan, sometimes I think most animals have their own ethics, but some animals don't seem to. Coyotes are one example. At least with male lions killing cubs there's a logic to their behavior, even if it's cruel.
By the way, your comment showed up, and, since you asked so nicely, yes, you can link to my blog, but only on one condition: you have to let me link to yours. I have this thing about being respectful of others and, when they do nice things for me, I like to do nice things in return. Yeah, I know, it's weird, but I can't help it.

thimscool said...

but I've never taken on a whole nest. That's impressive.

Well I didn't mean to. I just pulled the weather cover off of the grill to give it a good washing and out popped a hornet squad. After that, instinct just took over and I turned into a death dealer.

Your blog looks very interesting, Christopher. I'll return there when I have more time to read.

Morgan said...

Thank you, Christopher! And I'm glad the comment showed up. It didn't when I was viewing it.

Yes Luke, Christopher's blog is interesting. And it makes me think. Which hurts but in a good way!

You're lucky, Luke, that you didn't get stung. The really bad thing about yellow jackets and hornets is that when one stings you it leaves a pheremone marker on you which others in the nest hone in on to track you by. I've had a single yellow jacket sting turn into a dozen before I could get out of the woods to outrun them. That hurt in a bad way.

Morgan said...

Oh, and Christopher, of course you can link back to me. Duh! ;-)

Christopher said...

Well I didn't mean to.
Oh, yeah, you're not an idiot, obviously. The difference between smart and stupid is knowing how to deal with a hornets' nest you've uncovered accidentally, and finding a nest and poking it with a stick to see what'll happen.
Morgan, I'm glad my blog makes you think and that that hurts in a good way. Sometimes I really do lighten up, too. Yours makes my brain buzz.
And, yeah, I know, duh! But it would be impolite of me not to ask.

thimscool said...

Speaking of blogs, check out this link my friend just sent me.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Christopher, but that buzz is coming from Thimscool's Angry Hornets. :-)
Luke, I'm going to check out that blog this morning over coffee.

Christopher said...

Morgan, I hope you didn't have a mouthful of coffee when you visited that blog. I made the mistake of taking a drink of water right before I clicked on it and had to wipe it up off my monitor and keyboard. I should know by now not to drink before looking at something that might make me laugh.
And I hear those angry hornets, and they don't scare me. I have a can of hornet killer in my basement and I ain't afraid to use it.

Morgan said...

Luke, that Web site is too funny. At first I thought it was a spoof but those are actual album covers. The lady I write for sent me a link once to a sight where they resent awards to the worst romance novel covers. Some of those are hysterically funny, and moreso because the designers were actually trying to make them look provocative, not stupid.

Micky-T said...

Your a trip! A girl who loves spiders.