Archive for August, 2013

Here at Horrific Animals of the World, we don’t like getting things wrong.

In fact, to be more accurate, we don’t like being told we got things wrong, and our response is usually less ‘apologise, rectify the error and make sure it never happens again’ than ‘organise a poorly orchestrated smear campaign against our critics’. However, in some cases, we are forced to apologise; partially because it is evident we got it wrong and no sensible, clear minded person could deny we need to publicly show our repentance, but more so because otherwise it could well be that severe legal, financial and other penalties may be brought against us.

So, to the pupils, teachers and governors of St Saddam’s School we offer the following apology.

Firstly, I apologise for accepting your invitation to speak at your ‘animals of the world’ assembly.

In fairness, we feel that this is less a case of ‘we were wrong’ than ‘we were both in the wrong’, but judging by how that excuse went down with the Judge, we won’t go futher into that. All we will say is that fact that you thought bringing someone in from some barely read blog to talk about animals shows either a terrible lack of judgement, or that Micheal Gove’s reforms to the education system are far, far more damaging than previously suspected. Without wanting to appear as if we want to shift the blame, we really feel that this whole affair is wholly his fault.

Secondly, I apologise for thinking that a deadly venomous snake was a suitable exhibit for the assembly.

In retrospect, we would have to conclude that perhaps exhibiting the Common Krait (Bangarus caeruleus) at a children’s event was a poor decision. This snake, whilst looking undeniably cool with its black and white striped body, and 1.75 metres of length, is also incredibly venemous, and is known as one of the ‘Big Four’ in South Asia, as it responsible for so many bites there. In 2011, 2000 official deaths were reported from snakebites generally (although another report indicated the true figure was nearer 50,000 (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-12-06/india/30481201_1_anti-venom-krait-snake-bites )), and krait bites accounted for 11% of snakebites in Sri Lanka (Ariaratnam et al 2008). So yes, in retrospect it was a poor choice.

 

There is literally no way this can go wrong. (Imagecredit: Wikimedia Commons)

Thirdly, we apologise for getting confused over who actually owned the Krait.

Again, there was some confusion over this; as it turns out you can’t just ‘borrow’ a snake from the Zoo whenever you feel like it. However, we would like to add that zoo officials and armed police storming into the hall just as the snake was being handled by children hardly helped matters.

Fourthly, we apologise for letting the children handle the snake.

Seeing as the snake really is quite venomous, we accept this was irresponsible.1mg of the toxin will kill around seventy mice ( http://www.seanthomas.net/oldsite/ld50tot.html ). . Given that the average bite will inject between 8-20mg of toxin (http://toxinology.com/fusebox.cfm?fuseaction=main.snakes.display&id=SN0015 ), and that generally the bite is pretty much painless and has an 80% mortality rate if left untreated (http://toxicology.ucsd.edu/Snakebite%20Protocols/Bungarus.htm ) this may not have been the most sensible course of action. If the snake handling had been performed by anyone other than our level headed and not easily panicked interns, there could have been a catastrophe.

We’ll add ‘incredibly poisonous snakes’ to our list of things not to let children near. Its Health and Safety gone mad, really. (Imagecredit: Wikimedia Commons)

 

We apologise for immediately panicking

When the police burst through the door, a number of our employees thought that they were wanted on a number of charges, not all relating to snakenapping. In the ensuring confusion, we also apologise that the snake was dropped. However, I believe that I do deserve some credit for quick thinking for immediately turning off the lights in the hope that the snake would be afraid of the dark.

I apologise for not remembering that Kraits are both nocturnal and far more bite-y in the dark.

Yes, this really does speak for itself. I furthermore admit that switching off the lights when a venomous snake was escaping through a sea of screaming children, shouting and trigger happy police and weeping teachers probably added to rather than detracted from the confusion. However, in fairness I must say many of the pupils acted like five year olds, although this criticism obviously does not apply to the five year olds.

I apologise for continuing my talk.

I had hoped that pretending that nothing was wrong might calm the children. However, telling them that Kraits tend to live near humans, that most of their bites occur as their victims are sleeping, that their babies cannibalise each other and that the toxin is a mixture of powerful neurotoxins that cause painful abdominal cramps and respiratory paralysis; meaning that artificial ventilation for several hours or even days, is needed to keep the victim breathing as their bodies metabolise the poison, did not help. (We also apologise for the length of that sentence. Ed.). But I had made a vow to teach those children about animals, and I would not abandon them or their education!

I apologise for escaping through a window and abandoning the children.

In fairness, the police were closing in on me, and I thought that an explanation would be best provided after everyone had calmed down, and stopped screaming about ‘sueing’ this, ‘liability’ that and ‘dangerously stupid’ the other.

I apologise for not helping you capture the snake

Somehow, I never really got round to retrieving the snake, so as far as I know it is still in your school. They prefer areas close to water, preferably with a ready supply of mice, rats, toads, frogs and other small animals to eat. In South Asia, they are commonly found in house roofs and rubbish heaps. In your school I would suggest being careful around the storage cupboard and the staffroom; at least until the snake is found.

Unless it laid eggs of course.

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Hello, and welcome again to another episode of Horrific Animals of the World! I hope many of you have already gone travelling, met exotic people and not gotten attacked by horrible animals. If you were attacked, I hope at no point did you use this blog as any sort of guide on what to do. If you did, you are likely reading this from an intensive care ward and I shall have to engage the services of a solicitor.

As most of you will suspect, I lead a life utterly devoid of excitement or adventure. Therefore, I spend a surprising amount of time on Wikipedia, and the other day I learnt there is such a thing called ‘coulophobia’, or ‘fear of clowns’ – although the term does not appear in any actual pyschology textbook. This was useful information, and I paused only to send various pictures of clowns to one of my coulophobic friends before I went on a page entitled ‘List of Phobias’.

We’re unsure where this phobia came from, but it might have something to do with the time a psychotic clown broke into his family home and ate his parents.

Well, it turns out there are literally hundreds. You can be gephyrophobic, or have an intense fear of bridges; hylophobic, or afraid of wood, or uranophobic, or afraid of heaven. If you are reading this blog, you are unlikely to have that particular phobia, partially because no one reading this will ever go there. Some ‘phobias’ listed, however, do not seem like ‘phobias’. For example, one can apparently be thanatophobic, agraphobic or algophobic, but personally I cannot see what is so irrational about fearing death, sexual abuse, or pain. (Insert tasteless joke here. Ed.)

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Horrific Animals of the World. The answer is that there is no phobia specific to centipedes. One can be arachnophobic, opidiophobic or entophobic, (spiders/arachnids, snakes and insects respectively) but there is nothing about being, say, chilopodaphobic, or irrationally afraid of centipedes.

And this is strange, when one considers the giant centipede, Scolopendra gigantea, or ‘Giant Centipede’. This weird and evidently none phobia causing beastie lives in the north of South America, such as Venezuela and Trinidad, and the islands offshore. It can reach lengths of around 30cm, which for any creepy crawly, centipede or not, is about 25cm too long, and is a glossy orange-brown colour. Like all centipedes it is divided into segments, and each segment has one pair of legs on it. Thus, if you are ever in Colombia or thereabouts, and you feel what seems like a hundred little legs on your neck, your day might be about to get even worse.

Things can always get worse. (Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons)

Now, why should this animal cause phobias? Well, firstly it feeds, as Wikipedia helpfully notes, on pretty much whatever it can kill – so other invertebrates, mice, rats, snakes, frogs and suchlike are all fair game. Even more ominously, they have also been seen snatching bats from mid-air; hanging from a cave roof by their bottom sets of legs like Satan’s Christmas decorations until a nearby bat flies past. Using its antennae to detect air distubances, it swings out and catches a bat flying past, injecting it with enough venom to kill (Molinari et al 2005, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UROVfmY3NTA).

Who needs ‘nightmare free sleep’ anyway? (Photocredit http://arthropoda.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/giant-bat-eating-centipedes/, which is like this blog but better.

So firstly, these centipedes hunt bats in pitch dark caves, which aside from anything else seems like an inspiration for any insane criminal in Gotham city. More to the point, these animals are also capable of delivering a painful (though rarely fatal – only one death is on record) sting, which causes intense pain (according to one account, rather like having your hand plunged into boiling water), sickness, dizziness and swelling. The venom contains serotonin, a cardiodepressant called ‘Toxin S’ and proteases. Fortunately, although the bite is painful, the wound usually heals with little works required from doctors (indeed, one person managed to get themselves stung by a giant centipede 3 times in the paper cited below) and it is estimated that it would take around 1000 venom glands from these centipedes to kill a healthy adult male (http://caribjsci.org/aug05/41_340-346.pdf). Lets just hope they never hear about ‘teamwork’.

“There’s no I in Team Centipede” (Photocredit Wikimedia Commons)