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Aug. 12th, 2014

dandelion
 photo IMG_7117_zpsbb4262eb.jpg
This carpenter bee pupa fell out of its nest--a hole chewed under the handrail of our porch.
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Spider story update

dandelion
Thanks to my Dedham Natural Wonders friend for this follow-up: http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Assam/Killer-spiders-strike-in-Assam-s-Maoist-hub/Article1-859430.aspx

The short version is that this region of India is involved in conflict, and the villagers affected were non-Maoist holdouts. Speculation leans toward deliberate dumping of dangerous spiders into the lives of political targets. Arachnid terrorism. Also the article says that the spiders look more like Lactrodectus spiders (widows) than tarantulas.

Still leaning toward "Species of Least Concern Podcast," with a "non-charismatic microfauna corner" segment.
dandelion
A friend sent me a news story entitled: "Venomous Spiders of Unknown Origin Take Over Indian Town." I won't encourage the news aggregator responsible for the sensationalist and nonsensical headline, instead I'll link to the Times of India story with a different, equally nonsensical headline, complete with scare quotes around the words "Tarantula" and "kill": ‘Tarantulas’ invade Assam town, ‘kill’ two

Okay, deep breath. So sorry that two innocent people have died in whatever happened in this place. First some pedantry: all spiders are venomous, very few are equipped to bite humans, relatively few of those actually cause harm in the extremely rare case that they do. Second, "take over?" "invade?" Are these spiders from outer space?

No, they may be from Australia, however, which may be worse. The famous Australian funnel web spider (are you out there wirrrn?) is aggressive and has a dangerous bite, and looks sufficiently tarantula-like to be called a "tarantula," as long as we understand the quotes to mean "not really." How then to explain the quotes around the word "kill?" That's usually a cut-and-dried situation, unless the headline writer was alluding to the victims' already living their next lives (either as spiders or science journalists, depending on their karma). Sorry, I hate to be making light of these poor people, one of whom was a six year old child. The story does offer some clarity in this paragraph:

"We cannot say for sure that the fatalities were due to the venom; it could have been because of allergic reaction to the venom, which triggered cardiac arrest in both the victims. But all the bite patients first went to witch doctors, who cut open their wounds with razors, drained out blood and burnt it. That could have also made them sick. Also, we didn't administer any antivenin dose, as we were not sure if the spider was venomous," says Dr Anil Phatowali, superintendent, Sadiya Civil Hospital.

He adds that the hospital is ill-equipped to handle crises due to manpower crunch, erratic power supply and equipment shortage.


So here we have a tragedy exacerbated by poverty and extremely questionable traditional medicine practices, and possibly allergies. The mystery remains: where did the spiders come from, why are there so many of them, and what species are they dealing with? Authorities apparently have at least one spider in hand (and if this is an "invasion" of some scale, it shouldn't be hard to get more) then it's a matter of getting a picture of them up on the internet.

I was sent this story via twitter, where I've been trying to crowd-source a title for my hypothetical new podcast; I was honestly planning to do much of the first podcast on the subject of spider bites. Still not a bad idea.

My new title idea, to run by you all, is "The Species of Least Concern Podcast."

I loved it a few hours ago when I was caffeinated, now I'm not so sure. Probably need more caffeine.

Five years ago today

dandelion
Five years ago today I posted about the Democratic field for president, and how their positions on the Iraq war were not helpful for distinguishing them. One candidate spoke my mind: "Bring home the troops NOW." Remember Bill Richardson? I didn't until I re-read that post. He was going to be part of the Obama administration but some minor tax scandal scrubbed him out early. The important part of this post was my remark "Man, we're going to be paying for this fucking war for a long time."


I also posted this snapshot, number three.

And, of course, I followed up on the mysterious mass bird death in Austin. It wasn't the Joker, after all.


or was it?

Dead birds not poisoned

attack pigeon
That mysterious bird die-off that closed Downtown Austin for several hours on January 8th was apparently not caused by poisoning, which is the cause that I predicted. Instead the birds were found to be carrying huge multi-species parasite loads. What caused that is still unclear.

The article.

Mysterious bird deaths in Austin

attack pigeon
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/nation/4454558.html

Police shut down 10 blocks of businesses in the heart of downtown early Monday after dozens of birds were found dead in the streets, but officials said preliminary tests showed no dangerous chemicals in the air.

As many as 60 dead pigeons, sparrows and grackles were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a main route through downtown. No human injuries or illnesses were reported.


The reaction to this event is interesting to me. "Canary in a coal mine" seems to be the implicit message of closing the downtown area to human business. An airborne chemical strikes me as pretty unlikely, as these three bird species aren't going to be clustered together where a concentration of gas would kill them all--what are we imagining here? A dense cloud of poison gas hovering over the city? Have they detained the Joker?

I do love an urban nature mystery, and I hope they figure this one out in a hurry. Hopefully some brainiac has made the step of ordering necropsies of the birds to see what killed them. My prediction is that they will find that the birds were deliberately poisoned.

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