Friday, May 8, 2009

Tie Me Selenocosmia Down, Sport

A community in the Outback, some 700 miles north of Brisbane in Australia, is dealing with a sudden increase in their local Tarantula population -- as in, there were none; now there are plenty.

There have been heavy, unseasonal rains in Australia recently, and the Arachnids have been driven from their normal habitats into more suburban areas. Given other signs of shifting weather patterns due to global warming, and its effect on animal and insect populations, this shouldn't surprise anybody.

The specific species of Tarantula is fairly common down under, known as the Australian Whistling, or Barking or Bird-Eating Tarantula. Their bite is poisonous to humans, but not fatal; but, it can in fact kill a dog or bird. On top of it, the Tarantulas do seem to whistle when cornered, or feel threatened, or see pictures of Cate Blanchett.

Frankly, I've always thought Tarantulas (and most Arachnids, generally) have gotten a bad rap. I've seen them on television with 'handlers'; they're not dumb, for spiders. And, they don't live to attack humans -- though they will check things out in their environment (Are you a threat? Are you food?) like any proto-sentient organism, or telemarketer. However, if you freak them out, they'll protect themselves, and aggressively so. What did your mother tell you about not teasing dogs or Tarantulas?

Remember Harry Belafonte's big hit from 1956? "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)"?
Highly Deadly
Black Tarantula!
(Daylight come
and I want go home)

As it turns out, Tarantulas aren't the problem for de guys workin' all day on a drink o' Rum (I'd like to see them institute that policy where *I* work). The real critter they need to fear is something called the Brazilian Wandering Spider (Phoneutria Nigriventer), a nocturnal hunting Arachnid that hides in warm, moist places during the day -- including bunches of bananas. They are found from Costa Rica to northern Uruguay, and on down in the Amazon basin.

The Guinness Book Of World Records considers P. Nigriventer the most deadly spider in the world, based on the annual number of deaths from their bite -- however, the prize for Most Poisonous goes to the Australian Funnel Spider, the bite of which can kill you, despite the fact that it's less than half an inch long.

If you see any of these spiders, just leave them alone. Don't respond to them (Hey, Human! Come over here, you think you're so tough!), don't have conversations with them, don't take candy from them (not even that really good Swiss stuff), and don't let them talk you into getting into their car.

(The deadly Brazilian Wandering Spider... well, wandering.)

Arachnids generally are A Very Big Trigger for most people -- yell "Spider!" in a crowded room, and for a moment everyone will have a spike of primal fear-induced adrenaline.

I dare you to watch the scene at the end of the original "The Fly" -- David Hedison, his human head joined to the body of a housefly, sits trapped in a web as a spider approaches, screaming in a high-pitched voice Noooooooo! Killlll Meeeee!. Feel creeped out on a fundamental level? (No? Then watch all the first-season episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea in one sitting.) And, watching Elijah Wood fighting the giant Sheloob in The Return Of The King were pretty uncomfortable, for me. But, then, I'm only a dog.

(Here, a member of Selenocosmia [billed as 'Hungarian actor Taran Tula'], with Broderick Crawford in a 1959 Episode of Highway Patrol, "Reckless Driving")

God knows what I'd do if Tarantulas were "ordinary garden pests"; sleep with a machete, I suppose. The sad truth is, I have spiders in my home; they only come out at night; and they do bite -- though I don't find that out until the next morning. They do go after Silverfish and ants -- so, the relationship with my home Arachnids is similar to the bargain our Army has struck with the Sunni irregulars in Baghdad: You keep the foreigners in line, and I'll accept the occasional annoying firefight.

If anyone's traveling to that part of Australia, why not box up a few Whistling Tarantulas -- and ship them to George Will? Hey, Georgie! We're whistlin' 'Who'll Stop The Rain?', just for you, Mate! So global warmin' is a fraud, eh? Howya like these Outback Penguins, ya wanker?


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