Wicked Animals—Disgusting or Beneficial?
Why Do We Think Bugs Are So Scary?
The story here is about wicked animals. As humans, we seem to come preset with certain criteria for finding joy in certain animals. Who can resist a cute ball of fluff like a furry puppy or kitten? Who has not melted at the sight of baby birds in a nest, even though some of them have a face only a mother could love? We all love watching a fuzzy baby animal taking its first steps.
So why is it that we can appreciate graceful deer, big bison, curious meerkats and even ferocious tigers, and yet when a person sees a snake or spider, they run screaming in the opposite direction? Wicked Bugs! Even if you don't have an inherent fear of these animals, you probably find them less appealing than many other animals.
I believe a lot stems from the way we grow up. We are the sum of our experiences. If you ever had a bad experience with a certain animal as a youngster, chances are, you're going to grow up being cautious, if not fearful, of that same animal. If you had a good experience, then you will probably remember that animal with joy.
Also, if you see an animal and someone near you points out interesting facts, talks about that animal and shows you things, you will have a good impression. If, however, you see an animal and someone you trust like your mom or dad starts screaming and making a huge drama, then you probably will follow suit.
So let's take a look at some not so popular animals, wicked animals and as we learn about them, perhaps our views and perceptions will change.
What Are The Biggest Influences In Our Lives?
What do you think are some of the biggest factors that influence our lives growing up?
There are many things that shape our views regarding towards places, people, animals and other things.
Some of the biggest factors that influence us are:
- Society (Media, TV)
- Life Experiences
- Peer Pressure
Do you agree?
We fear what we do not know. Therefore, the first step and the real key to overcoming fear is knowledge.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say spider?
I can see the faces curling, the gestures, the groans. A spider, in some cases, is enough to make a grown man cry. I've seen it.
Even if you are not afraid of spiders, generally I find most people don't have an affinity for them. Spiders definitely have to be one of the most misunderstood animals in the world.
First, let's define what a spider is. Spiders belong to a class called Arachnids. Arachnids include spiders, scorpions, mites (think chiggers), harvestmen (commonly known as Grandaddy Long Legs), ticks, and solifugae.
They belong to the Phylum Arthropods (segmented bodies, segmented legs). They have an exoskeleton and possess eight legs, and two sets of further appendages that are shortened, one set of which is used in feeding and the other set, pedipalps, which tend at times to look like fangs, that are used in feeding, locomotion, and reproduction.
Spiders are distinguished from insects in the fact that they have eight legs, not six, and they do not have antennae or wings.
Not so scary so far, is it? Let's get started by debunking some common myths about spiders.
Common Myths About Spiders
All female spiders eat the male after mating
Some do, but not all
All spiders build webs
All spiders produce silk, but not all spiders build webs
The average person eats 8 spiders a year while sleeping
People, I'm only going to say this once. Simply not true. Unless, of course, you are sleeping under a web where a spider has just laid an egg sac and it falls into your open mouth, in which case you've probably swallowed around 100.
Grandaddy Long Legs is a spider
It actually is not a spider at all, but an arachnid called a harvestman.
All spiders are strictly carnivores
Believe it or not, there are a few spiders that have been observed supplementing their diets with nectar or accidentally ingesting pollen. However, there is a Latin American spider who seems to prefer a vegetarian diet. While Bagheera Kiplingi will occasionally feed on ant larvae and nectar, it primarily feeds on beltian bodies of the Acacia tree. See the link below for more information.
A tarantula's bite is harmful
Actually, a tarantula does not deliver enough venom through its fangs to make a bite feel much more than a bee sting. It's the venomous hairs on its abdomen that you have to worry about. They 'spray' venomous hairs with a swipe of their back legs. That is, unless, of course, it's a particular tarantula species which has the ability to pluck out hairs and actually flick them at you. It's kind of like the spider version of knife throwing. The hairs irritate the skin, much like a fire ant's bite. It stings, burns, and itches.
- Vegetarian Spider Found
As agile as its panther namesake in The Jungle Book, a tropical jumping spider is the only known plant-eater among 40,000 known spider species, a new study says.
This is where you can find the Bagheera Kiplingi
The Bagheera Kiplingi is a type of jumping spider that is native to Central America, found in the rainforests of Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica
The Bagheera Kiplingi calls Guatemala home.
The Bagheera Kiplingi is found here also.
Jumping Spider Mating Dance - You're going to want to turn the volume up for this one, guys.
Admiring Those Amazing Arachnids
So, what, you might ask, is there to love about a spider?
First off, the sheer variety is amazing. There are 43,678 species of spiders and they live on every continent except Antarctica. They, of course, have the distinguishing ability to make silk out of spinnerets located on their abdomen. They produce this silk with up to six special silk glands located inside the abdomen. The silk varies in strength and viscosity, as well as stickiness. Some even build a web every night and take it down every morning. Webs produced also vary greatly, some producing elaborate webs more traditional in nature, while others produce funnel webs on the ground, trapdoors, tangled cobwebs, and more. Some even spin small webs they hold between their front legs and they will 'catch' an unsuspecting insect. Others produce no web at all, but simply jump on their prey.
All spiders produce venom, for this is how they digest prey. They are unable to digest prey on their own, so they inject the venom and this paralyzes and predigests the victim and then they literally drink their prey.
That little fact probably didn't endear you to them, did it? Let me get back on track.
I love all the fascinating variety in color, shape, and size. There is an amazing array of spiders out there, and if you just take the time to look, you will appreciate a creature that not many take the time to understand. Remember, spiders rid the world of a lot of mosquitoes, ants, and other nuisance bugs. They are a very useful part of the environment.
Check out an incredible array of spiders here. This website is also a great place for spider identification. Remember that out of 40,000+ species, there are only a little over 300 species that are harmful to humans, unless you have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction. Black widows and brown recluse are a couple of the North American spiders that have venom harmful to humans. They are both easily identifiable. The black widow is black with a shiny round abdomen and a bright red hourglass shape on the underside of the abdomen. Brown recluse has a violin pattern on the back and it is a brown translucent color, and has three pairs of eyes, instead of 4 pairs, like most spiders.
The Brazilian Wandering spider is the most venomous in the world and has been known to cause fatalities even when anti venom is administered.
There are a lot of fascinating facts about spiders. Jumping spiders happen to be a favorite of mine. I used to play with them when I was a child. They are so cute and so bold. I would put my finger in front of them and they would jump on, then jump off, and jump on, then off. I loved it! I had a pet one on the porch I would go out and play with every day. (Yeah, I know, I wasn't your typical female child).
There are also some interesting markings on some spiders. For instance, take a look at the Happy Face Spider, pictured below.
All in all, spiders are amazing and beneficial creatures. I think the bottom line is that we fear what we do not understand or know. With knowledge, comes appreciation and understanding. That is the key to appreciating any creature, including spiders.
Snakes - Scary or Sweet?
While it is hard to move on from such an interesting subject as spiders, if I must, I'm glad I am moving on to another co-favorite of mine, snakes. Snakes are another creature that cause most people to recoil. But, again, if you just take the time to look, you will see an incredibly fascinating creature.
Though snakes have been considered wicked animals, often depicted as the embodiment of evil, they are a beautiful creature that has a very positive impact on the environment when they are in their natural and native environments. Most snakes eat small animals for prey, some even subsisting on nothing more than crickets and insects. Others eat rodents, vermin, and small animals they can catch, which may consist of birds, rabbits, or young of other animals.
Some larger snakes may take larger prey. Some snakes can go months without eating after consuming a large meal.
Some snakes are venomous and use venom to immobilize or partially digest their prey. Others are non venomous and use constriction to kill their prey by suffocation, tightening coils around the animal each time they breathe out.
They can be both viviparous and oviparous, meaning they can bear live young or lay eggs. Some snakes are only a few inches long and others can reach sizes of nearly 30 feet long.
Snakes are generally shy by nature and would rather avoid confrontation unless cornered, surprised, or threatened. Most of the time, they will warn before striking, by rattling their tails against leaves or whatever is around. Snakes have heat sensing pits on their lip that helps them to locate prey. They will sometime use other animal's abandoned burrows for shelters or homes. Many snakes like to hide in windfalls, under old stumps and logs, and leaves.
Non venomous snakes are often mistaken for their venomous counterparts and killed unwittingly. For instance, a northern water snake looks very similar to a cottonmouth. Also, juvenile rat snakes and juvenile corn snakes can be misidentified as copperheads.
Remember that black snakes eat lots of mice and rodents, which you don't desire around the house. And keep in mind, too, that king snakes will kill and eat other venomous snakes, even though they are non venomous themselves. They seem to be unaffected by the venom of other snakes. This is how they earned the name "King" snake. So, think twice before you rid your property of them.
All snakes have a purpose. So, give a snake a break. Let's share our world together.
Common Myths About Snakes
All snakes have venom
Out of approximately 2,400 snake species, only roughly 400 are venomous.
Black racers will run after you
This myth probably got started when the snake was trying to get away and sped past the person. At any rate, black racers do not chase people.
All snakes are dangerous
Most snakes are shy by nature and will try to get away unless provoked or surprised. Accicdents usually happen when a person unwittingly steps on or near a snake they didn't realize was there.
Snakes lay their eggs and leave
In most cases, this is true. However, a mother Burmese python will lay her clutch and wrap her body around the eggs, twitching her muscles which raises her body temperature by a degree or two and actually incubates and protects the eggs until they hatch, which is why they have such a high hatch rate.
The Opossum - Friend or Foe?
Now, here is an interesting creature. People even debate how to pronounce the name. Whether you say 'possum' or 'o-possum', clearly you have seen this creature. Most of us have seen them attempting to cross the road in the middle of the night (which they don't have a high success rate at).
The opossum is the only native North American marsupial. It is an unusual looking creature. People sometimes fear this animal when they encounter it in a backyard trash can because it has a ferocious appearance. You see, the opossum has 50 teeth, the most of any mammal in North America. That would make anyone look ferocious.
Their first line of defense is to show those pearly whites in a nasty growl. However, unbeknownst to most people, the opossum is actually quite a docile creature and this is all show. If this does not deter a would be threat, then the opossum does his famous 'play dead' routine.
This is no quick, flip over on my back routine, but rather a very complex process in which the animal will actually go through an involuntary response, and convulse several times, the heart rate actually slows down to about four beats per minute, putting the animal in a semi-hibernation state. At this point, the animal expresses its anal glands which produces a foul smell that makes the animal smell like it is indeed dead. Then, it will foam at the mouth. This process can last a few minutes up to four hours.
It's very convincing.
While they may look scary to some people, opossums are very good creatures to have around. Did you know that opossums are one of the few animals that have a natural immunity to pit viper venom, and so they will actually prey upon and eat venomous snakes? So they keep venomous snakes in control.
Opossums have a prehensile tail (like a monkey) that they can use to grasp and balance. Mothers will sometimes carry nesting material in their tails and drag it along. Mostly, they use their tails to help them in climbing.
Opossums also have hind feet with no claws and an opposable thumb. This makes the footprint they leave behind very unique. Their front claws look more like a normal animal paw, but the hind foot splays out much like a human hand. To see the track an opossum leaves, click here.
They also eat all the things you don't want around. They eat garbage, decaying fruits and vegetables, insects, and they also scavenge on carrion (dead meat). So they are basically nature's garbage disposal.
This is also how they end up getting hit in the road so much, because they are attracted to the dead carcasses of other animals.
So the next time you see an opossum, you might want to thank him for disposing of all the things you don't want around your house!
Common Myths About Opossums
Opossums are vicious
They are actually quite docile creatures. They show their teeth when threatened. If this doesn't work, they 'play dead.'
Opossums carry rabies
Because they are a marsupial, their body temperature is slightly lower than most other mammals and so they are highly resistant to rabies. It would be extremely rare. They do, however, have a high rate of carrying trichinosis.
Opossums hang by their tail
Though you may occasionally see a young or baby opossum doing this, older animals cannot do this because their tails would not support the weight of their body.
The next time you see a opossum in the road, please slow down!
Okay. This is probably your least favorite animal to investigate. However, you have trusted me before, so, for once, trust me again. I will show you why these stinky wicked animals are so vital to our society.
Did I mention these are my FAVORITE land creature? Of course, I had special experiences in my life that found me at this crossroads. I used to like wolves as my favorite land creature, and to be sure, they are a very close second. However, I had the chance to bond with several particular skunks, some wild, some tame, and these experiences changed me forever.
First off, most people think skunks simply spray without warning or provocation. in other words, if you see a skunk,you're going to smell something bad shortly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since skunks have such an effective natural defense and smell so bad, they have very few natural predators. Great Horned Owls are a natural predator, having a very poor sense of smell. Skunks, in general, are much more tolerant than people give them credit for.
In fact, you may not know is that it can take several days to produce enough smelly concentrate to ward off an enemy. So, in line with this, the skunk does not readily release this chemical that takes days to synthesize. They do not spray unless they feel they HAVE to.
They are much more highly tolerant than we think. For instance, when releasing an adult skunk out of a live trap under stress (which I've done twice), it didn't even attempt to spray me. It was cautious, to be sure. It postured, but never sprayed. Rather, it was simply consumed with its release and the certain determination it would be free do do what it wanted to.
By the way, this was an experience in itself, for this skunk was relaxed enough that it happened to eat bagels with honey, right out of my hand!!
Granted, I'm not suggesting or encouraging anyone to feed or touch wild animals (as appealing as that might sound). In fact, I discourage it all costs. It wasn't the wisest move. At the time, to be sure, I was simply trying to distract the creature. All I'm implying is that these creatures aren't inherently evil and they have actually have pretty amazing qualities.
To hear what a skunk sounds like, click here.
How Are Skunks Beneficial?
So, what are the benefits of having skunks around, you might ask? Believe it or not, there are a number of beneficial purposes these wicked animals serve.
They love insects and this is their primary source of food. Have you ever wondered why skunks have such long fingernails? This is why.
You see, skunks are basically bug vacuum cleaners. They have long claws that are designed perfectly for digging them up. If you have ever seen those conical holes in your backyard early in the morning, chances are, you have been visited by a skunk in the evening hours or early in the morning. They are crepuscular, meaning that they tend to visit at dusk, or early in the morning.
Do you know that they also eat yellow jackets and other wasps? This is because their coat is so thick, they don't seem to feel the stings. If you have a yellow jacket colony in your back yard (they build in the ground), to remove them, simply bury a can of smelly tuna on either side, and within a few days, the whole nest will be dug up. I've tried it. It works.
You see, these animals are not your enemy, but your friends. They take care of the things you don't want around just like the opossum.
They also are unique in that they have time to play. So if you see them,especially a family, or the babies, chances are you are going to see something very precious.
The pictures you see here are some encounters I've had with captive or rehabilitated skunks. I have had experiences with skunks and have learned many things about them and their nature. Just working with them at my Science Center, I came to know them in such a special way. I learned early on that skunks were not the creatures most think of. I came to find that they are intelligent, beautiful, and extremely affectionate creatures.
I have also learned that they have their own mind and are creatures that are best left wild and free, as all should be.
Of all the experiences I've had with skunks, both wild and tame, one that brought me particular joy was my experiences with my Sputnik, the nickname I gave to a very unique creature. Sputnik was a skunk who shared the world with me. My house was in his territory and he would visit in the evenings usually. He was totally wild and free, and yet he tolerated me in his world to the point he would come right up on the porch at times. He even got tot he point that he would just go on about his business, keeping a watchful eye on me, if I were still outside doing work. He had this cute little comical way of raising up on his hind legs every once in a while, and giving me a slight side glance just to check my position. Then he'd go right back to what he was doing. He was a satellite in my world. We shared random orbits. I gave him blueberries (they are omnivorous). And he left me with a sense of wonder.
The point is, each creature we share the planet with, has a unique place in it. They are here for a reason. They are all beneficial, and sometimes we just need to learn more about an animal to find out what that is.
Bats are creatures that people usually shy away from.
How many people have heard that bats will fly in your hair and drive you crazy? Most of us know better, but it shows the prevailing attitude people have with bats.
Vampire bats, now those are wicked animals! Right? Guess what? There are only three species of bats that feed solely on blood. And get this: these bats are very small, not the huge bats usually pictured in our minds hanging upside down ready to climb in your window and head for your jugular.
A vampire bat is very small and, not unlike a mosquito, actually licks the spot first where they bite and releases an analgesic which numbs the skin while also releasing a chemical that thins the blood so that they can lap up blood easily. In most cases, the victim never even knows that they were there.
In fact, the large bat that most people think of as a vampire bat with folded wings hanging upside down in a tree, is in fact the flying fox, the largest species of bat, which we will learn more about below.
More Flying Foxes
The largest bat, the Giant Golden Crowned Flying Fox, found in the Philippines is a fruit bat.
Bats are fascinating creatures with the ability to fly at high speeds with great agility in total darkness using sonar. They send out a series of clicks and these sounds bounce off objects and come back and they are able to judge distances this way. Bats are nocturnal, only coming out at night..
So why are bats good to have around?
If we didn't have bats, we would laden with disease due to an overabundance of mosquitoes. One bat can eat 500 - 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour! That's a staggering number. Multiply that by hundreds of bats in one colony, or in some cases many thousands, and you have a whole lot of very good reasons to want bats around.
In fact, in certain areas up north where white nose fungus has wiped out large populations of bats, there has been a rise in mosquito born sicknesses, as mosquito populations have climbed out of balance. It has been a real problem in some areas.
It is estimated that 2.4 billion pounds of bugs will go uneaten because of white nose syndrome.
So if I were you, the next time I saw a bat, I'd thank him!
- OBC | Organization for Bat Conservation
I met Rob Mies when he did a show for our Science Center. He's very knowledgeable and does extensive work with bats. If you ever have a question on bats, he can answer it. There's a lot of great information about bats on this website.
Did this article change your mind on any of the creatures in a positive way?
The truth is, there are many creatures out there that we don't know a lot about. But they are all fascinating in their own way. We just need to take the time to look and we will find amazing things in this world we live in every day.
Did you know that horseshoe crabs can save people's lives? Or that there is a little blue beetle that faints when it is scared? Did you know that the dung beetle lives exclusively on feces and yet is the only other animal, besides humans, that navigates by the Milky Way?
Yes, there are amazing creatures everywhere we look. So get out there, and find them!
The Irony Of It All
It's ironic how some animals are so easily misunderstood, while others win hearts all over the world. Butterflies, for instance, are probably the most popular insect around. We marvel every day at their exquisite beauty and grace.
Did you know that a butterfly can sip through its nose, or that it can taste through its feet? Learn more interesting facts about butterflies reading this article, Butterflies - Fanciful Fairies of the Flowers.
The Wicked Animals Dedicate This Song To You
I think if animals could pick a song to dedicate to us all, this would be it. Ironically, the group that performs this song is none other than "THE ANIMALS." The song is "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The lyrics are very fitting.
You can watch the performance in the video below.
Remember, we all want to be understood.