We Don’t Understand our Wild World. We Need It as Much as The Wild Needs Us
Her legs hung partway out of a hole in the wall. It reminded me a bit of that notion about ostriches who bury their heads in the sand, where the rest of their enormous bodies are in full sight. Or my BF’s previous bulldog, who would inch her head above the table just enough to get her eyes peeping over, believing for all the world she was invisible.
This spider was big. I poked at her legs gently, sending her whipping across the shower ceiling. She was enormous. My guess that her egg sac, or perhaps babies, were in the hole.
Spiders like this, for some reason, scare the shit out of people. As a Floridian born and raised, hell, we lasso them up and ride ’em. They drift down from the ceiling, land on your face, and skitter away. In truth, these babies are vastly more scared of us, and would prefer no contact at all. They go about their very important business of eating the cockroaches and flies and bad boys around the house and do an excellent job of it. You want spiders around.
Insects like this are a critical part of our world, our wild world. Far too many people have a knee jerk, fearful reaction to them, having seen far too many sci-fi movies, and believe that any dead spider is a good spider. Thank kind of mindless over-reaction to a key species- and there are many of them- is what gives us the current emergency in our insect world. Pesticides (thank you Monsanto and Dow) are killing off vast billions of insects which are critical to the survival of birds and amphibians and all manner of creatures that delight and inform us. To think that spiders are dangerous is part of our extraordinary lack of education.
Every day when I came into the shower on this tiny beach village in Madagascar, I checked to see if Mama was active. Some mornings she’d be in a corner, her front legs placed tightly together, lying in wait. There were plenty of bugs for her to eat, and when she did, there were fewer that were circling our food in the next room. Fine by me. She could have cared less about me, as most arachnids feel about humans.
One day I came in to use the facilities (such as they were, the toilet didn’t flush, nor did the shower head work, nor did the spigots, but you learn to deal). I found hubby in the toilet. He was about a third her size.
Now if you happen to live in Australia, a brown spider in the toilet might give you pause. The funnel web spider that inhabits that rather large island is NOT the kind of denizen you want under the lip where you lounge with your Kindle. Here’s why: https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2017/02/worlds-deadliest-spider-the-sydney-funnel-web/.
We had an outdoor bog (outhouse) next to the landing zone where I flew ultralights near Geelong, in Victoria, Australia. There were funnel webs just under the wooden lip, and you learned to do air mail delivery. This is a bad operator. Can’t speak for you, but I’d rather not have her fangs in my lady parts.
However, Australia is rather famous for her collection- wide, varied and deadly- of shit that stings, bites, maims and kills. I spent four years there and met my share, from jellyfish babies on the West Coast to this lovely operator. That’s also where you might head to the loo in the middle of the night only to find a boa lounging in your toilet, just to escape the mindless tropical heat. Not something I’d want to test out peeing on just in case they might wake up angry. You think I joke. Nope:
Simple truth is that every creature like this is simply looking for food, shelter, comfort, or a place to nap. For the most part they could care less about us unless we attack them, step on them or do mindlessly stupid shit like try to take a selfie with one next to our cheeks.
I have little to no fear of spiders, reptiles and the like. I fear stupid people vastly more, for the ridiculous chances they take with otherwise harmless creatures. Such as the numbnut female who was feeding a shark by hand and — oh what surprise- the shark went after her hand as well. What the fuck did she expect? That said shark would delicately remove the piece of meat with all the good manners of your well-trained house dog?
Now there’s a classic case. I have dived with Great Whites, and have a massive amount of respect for these gorgeous animals. When I was suspended in the forty degree waters off South Africa next to Dyer’s Island (http://gansbaaiinfo.com/dyer-island/), there were some seventeen fully- sized Great Whites. I had the chance to stroke them, and one shark circled around repeatedly, calmly, as though appreciating the touch. Who knows? It sure didn’t come after me in the cage. They rarely do. However- and please dear god- I am NOT going to feed one by hand. That takes a level of stupidity that puts you squarely in the Darwin Awards, and good goddamned riddance. Because stupid people who get hurt or bitten blame the animal, which is innocent, rather than do their best to sew their fingers back on, lick their wounds and admit to their monumental ignorance. They want the animal killed or moved elsewhere because THEY are stupid. I’m with the animal whether it’s a whale or a wart hog.
Our spiders, such as they were, kept watch over our toilet for the seven days I was there. I was happy to have them around. The best part of being in the wild is learning to live with the wild, as there is damned little left of it. A world without Mama spiders is no world at all. It’s no her fault that you might fear her simply because you didn’t grow up with them as I did. It’s your fault for not informing yourself to the point where nature is simply part of life, not something to be eradicated simply because a set of fangs, long legs and a bunch of eyes remind you of a movie you saw at ten. Here’s my absolute favorite Florida spider, whose enormous webs my brother and I nearly bounced off like a trampoline when we ran in the yard at dusk:
When I was in the Ecuadorian Amazon, a bunch of us went out on a night walk. The very first thing we saw was a tarantula hanging out quietly on one of the posts of my bedroom. She was gorgeous. They make terrific pets. Which is why directors can use them in movies, as they are remarkably calm, while the actors are making asses of themselves in fear.
We went into the forest, then turned out our flashlights. The night sounds rose and surrounded us like a warm blanket. The canopy overhead was so dense we couldn’t see the stars. It was full on dark, and nothing but your ears and nose provided input. That, and anything that might slither over a hand, a foot, or up a pant leg.
The Big Bad Wolf
Directors have, sadly, done the same thing with wolves. There’s a scene that still pisses me off at the beginning of the 2012 movie The Bourne Legacy, showing a pack of wolves hunting actor Jeremy Renner. Such events are incredibly rare (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_attack), but the story line feeds on the lies that fearful people have told for years about these remarkable creatures. These lies prey on our instinctual terrors when for the most part there is nothing to fear whatsoever. In India, young children can be removed from huts, but consider the fact that they have invaded wolf hunting territory and removed a lot of their prey. You’d switch to another available source, too, if someone kicked you off your property and took all your food. And we blame the animals, just as mountain dwellers blame cougars and bears for eating Fluffy. Fluffy is no more than easy prey in cougar territory. We’re the ones who are clueless.
It’s a rare creature that is genuinely aggressive, like the Tai-Pan of Australia (yep, again).
These guys are mean as hell, and if you are unlucky enough to cross paths with one during cane burning season, they’re already mad ’cause someone is burning their home to the ground. Then you might get bitten several times over, at which point it’s wise to travel with an ordained priest. There’s little that can be done if you’re in the Outback.
However, as with most reptiles, they would prefer to be left alone. A bit of education ensures their safety and yours. You want Taipans in the sugar cane fields because they control the rats. Rats carry fleas, and fleas can carry plague ( Black Death kills a bunch of folks in Madagascar every year, because people scorch the forests, the rats run to town, and you get the message. You want creatures eating the rats if people continue to be that stupid) You see, there is a reason for all these bad boys and girls, and it’s only when we don’t understand or have unnecessary fears that we end up in conflict.
Growing up I had a big brother who put anything and everything down the front or back of my shirt. A few spiders bit me, and once, a coral snake got my attention until my father recognized the creature for the cobra cousin it was and snatched it out of my hands. Otherwise we played with all manner of creepy crawlies, coming to understand what bit, what didn’t, and how to know the difference.
A generation that grows up fearing our natural world, and all the fascinating creatures that populate it, won’t value the biodiversity that is critical to the survival of ALL those species. Fear drives stupid and uninformed reactions to kill anything and everything that makes us squirm a little, or causes us to leap off the ground if we see a snake on its way to the other side of the road. They don’t need to be killed. You need to curb your overreactions. Some versions of these extraordinary creatures was here long before we showed up. Each one has a place, a job, and a perfect role in Mama Nature’s design. We’re the ones who are clueless about what it looks like to live in harmony with wild.
In most cases, the wild has much more to fear from us than the other way around. In fact, just to make a point, you ask most of us women who hike alone about sounds in the wild. We cower at the sound of a big truck full of drunk hunters pulling into the woods near us. We’ll take a griz going after our food supply any damned day.
See a spider? Invite it onto a piece of paper toweling and let it outside. Unfortunately, that means more insects in the house for you. In many ways, they’re vastly more effective that your local pest exterminator, with far fewer toxic chemicals. But hey, that’s just me.
I love the wild. Big Mama spider and her babies are welcomed in my house any day.