Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature red in tooth

So, part of my job "requirement" is to be up on the news, in case patrons talk to us. They don't, much, other than to bitch. But, things happen. So, I saw this headline in The Atlantic: Walk for your lives! Deadly giant snails are invading Texas!  I was intrigued, of course.

Before I clicked on the article, I also (of course) immediately had expectations. Perhaps you've read the delightfully chilling short story by Patricia Highsmith (yes, of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley fame)? "The Quest for Blank Claveringi"? I think I first read it in an Alfred Hitchcock short story collection in 6th or 7th grade. I honestly thought you could read it online, but am having a hard time locating it.

 (Giant African Snail, from Wikimedia Commons)

But yeah. Giant African snails, which may or may not currently be slurming through Texas apparently snack on rat poop. And rat poop carries a form of meningitis (again, according to the Atlantic). So, truly giant snails (there's a picture with the article) though not room sized snails, who can give you meningitis if you touch them. Though, frankly, my first thought when I see a giant snail is "OH GOD WHAT IS THAT WHY?!" not "ooh, let's pick it up!" Evidently these may not in fact be African snails, but rather Rosy Wolf Snails, which are considerably smaller (2 or 3 inches rather than 8) and I guess don't have the pesky meningitis issue.

I'm somewhat reminded of my first (and thank God, to date only) encounter with a Dobsonfly. All of the kid's programs and contests and things that summer (for the Summer Reading Program, you see) were about identifying bugs, counting the (fake) bugs in a jar (a la the jelly bean game), etc. Well, after five, my night-shift coworker and I were going about our business when two ladies and one little kid came in with an empty, big plastic mayonnaise jar. One of the ladies was in her pajamas, and the other one seemed overdressed.

"Can you help us find out what kind of bug this is?" they asked.

I got up from the desk and, gesturing at my "Catch the Reading Bug" shirt, started in on a spiel with my pleasant public smile "Well, you've come to the right place! This summer's Summer Reading Program slogan is, in fact, Catch the Reading Bug, and everything is bug themed, and we've got a bug book behind the counter here..." And then I peered into the jar and calmly said "I've never seen a bug like that in my entire life." My coworker said the same.

My coworker and I traded glances, each mentally screaming "OH DEAR GOD HOLY CRAP WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?!"

One of the ladies said "My dog was playing with it and it pinched the dog. If you look at its underside, it looks like a crab." I got the bug identification book and handed it to her, again, mentally screaming HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHAT THE HELL.

Well, the ladies went and sat down with the book and their bug, and I searched "Moth with pincers" on Google, because the thing was five inches long, had humongous wings, and big huge pincers on the front of it. It was the most terrifying bug I have ever in person seen. The Wikipedia article doesn't have a good picture, though it is a representative one. The critter is called the Dobsonfly, and from what I can tell, doesn't have much of a point. The males (the big pinchered ones) can't even really use their pinchers effectively, and while the females can, it still isn't really strong enough to break skin. The adults don't eat. Their only purpose is terror.

Or rather, they're harmless. But holy shit. Look at them. LOOK AT THEM.

(Image from Wikimedia commons)

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