Saturday, May 22, 2010

Banamichi Fauna

Spiderman lives under my bathmat. That is to say, a man-sized spider, a manly dude at 1 1/2 inches across. He comes out at night, so I dance lightly into the bathroom so as not to squish him before I can see him.
He is a large Arizona wolf spider so far as I can tell.  He has long, striped legs and can run like crazy. Spider woman lives there with him and she is growing plumper by the day. Actually, I think her extra girth is the babies she carries around on her back. (Eeeek! More of them?) If I try to get close enough to look, they both race away to hide.
I have an uneasy truce with spiders. I don’t really like them. I shiver in revulsion at their alien appearance and behavior. But I know they serve an ecological purpose and get rid of insects that I would like even less. I read on a website that these guys are harmless. But there are so many of them in our house in Banamichi! I tolerate them, but always am on the edge of getting the can of insect spray and spritzing them out of existence.
And, there is the creep out factor. With something that weird, who knows what it is thinking. More likely it doesn’t think at all - like the one who kept insisting on running across the door I was painting. And the one that crawled out of the pillowcase last night. That one really wigged me out. Then there is the black widow that built a web from our toilet to the wall. But that is a whole other story.
Since we have lived here, we have had a number of interesting animal experiences. Last summer, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move across the floor in front of the fireplace. I tried to tell myself it was nothing. I must not have convinced myself because I had to go have a look. 
And there it was, the biggest, ugliest scorpion I have ever seen. I do know that the bigger they are, the less poisonous, but it was its alien ugliness that got me. I couldn’t bear to step on it, as I didn’t want to hear it squish under my shoe. That would have been too repulsive to bear. 
I ran for the can of Casa Y Jardin (Mexican Raid), but by then it had run off. I finally located it under the sofa and shot pretty much the entire can at it. It still kept moving. After some research, I learned that insecticides are not especially effective on scorpions because of the tough exoskeleton. Creeeeeepy! But he next day, there it was, belly up with its nasty little legs in the air. It must have been the sheer amount of insecticide that got it.
Also last summer, we started finding a mess on our back porch every morning. There were piles of what looked like animal droppings, and there were streaks down the walls. Something was pooping out there – apparently from the ocotillo ceiling. Again, research finally told us it was Mexican fruit bats. We never did see them – and I wanted to –I was real curious. Turned out it wasn’t really poop. The bats chew up whatever fruit they find to extract the juice, and then spit out the rest. Great – so it’s not bat poop, it’s bat puke. Gross! Our neighbor’s huge tree was the source of the fruit – it has some sort of weird inedible(by humans) berries full of tiny seeds. Very similar to the sticky masses we were finding on our back porch. One day I had the thought to leave the porch light on since the little devils are nocturnal. That did the trick. No more piles in the morning.
One cool evening our first fall here we were sitting with Tom and Lynn around a campfire in our back yard. Suddenly Lynn shrieked and jumped up. “What was that??? Ooooh, it was horrible – it was big and furry and had a long skinny tail like a rat! It came out of the building and ran over there!” The building in question was an old outhouse, more recently used as a storage shed.
After quite a bit of speculation about what she might have seen - no, it wasn’t a hallucination! – Tom said  “Lynn, what you are describing is an
So began the saga of the possum house. A few days later, the two Dans were clearing out the stuff stored in the old outhouse, and they saw it!! It dove into the remnant of the hole that was still in there. My Dan, man-child that he is, shone a flashlight under there and poked at it with a broomstick. It snarled and snapped its fangs at him. He didn’t want to mess with it. Even he was a little put off. He was in favor of filling in the hole and calling it good.
My conscience couldn’t agree to that. We waited until there had been no sign of it for a long time, and made sure it was no longer calling the outhouse home before we filled the hole. Now the hole is covered with cement, we have a nice storage building called “Casa del chulo” =Spanish for opossum house, and the critter is gone.
By far the most repulsive creatures I have encountered are the “sapos” – Bufo alvarius- The Sonoran Desert toad. The first time I encountered them was on a steamy summer evening driving back from Hermosillo after a rain. I peered sleepily through the windshield between the driver and the front seat passenger. Illuminated by the headlights, the shiny pavement was alive with motion. Toads of all sizes were frolicking on the wet roadway, but alas, we could not avoid hitting them – there were far too many. Ick! I hated the thought of running them over. They seemed to be having such a good time.
Bufos only emerge from the mud when the summer monsoon starts. In fact, they breed in seasonal puddles, spend about a month as tadpoles and then begin to grow and grow and grow….
The next time I saw one it was much closer up – in our friend’s back garden. It was huge – about 5 inches long and just about as wide. It jumped from place to place with a fleshy plopping noise. It was grayish brown, moist looking and covered with ugly bumps. I pulled in my limbs as I recalled that these guys are poisonous.
The venom that makes them poisonous comes from those lumps on their back. People who are into psychoactive substances “milk” the poison glands, dry the resulting fluid and then smoke it. That is what repulses me more than the toad itself, which is after all, just another creature inhabiting this planet with us.
For a while there were hopefully exaggerated reports of people licking or sucking these toads. Bleahhhhh! Now that is beyond disgusting!! In fact the ingested venom is toxic, with the ability to kill a full-sized dog. I am thinking it could make a person really sick. Maybe this was just another media exaggeration.
Many people seem to have the same problem with the toads that we had on that first encounter – the animals are mindless of these monsters we call autos, so that in the summer moths, their squashed bodies litter the streets. People dump lime on the larger ones here in town. 
This year, knowing what is coming I am actually looking forward to their arrival. To me they have come to mean the breaking of the inferno of the summertime Sonoran Desert. They are nature’s way of celebrating the coming of life-giving moisture. The season has come full-circle again. We have survived another brutal summer. As the land cracks open to receive the rain, bufos again frolic in the puddles. This year, watch out, I may just frolic with them!

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