Saturday, August 27, 2011

Walk on the Wild Side: Australian Creatures are Invading The Shed

Australia's amazingly diverse wildlife, creatures of all sizes, shapes, colors and number of legs, all share one attribute: they all want to get inside my shed.  To eat me, I assume.

Before it was even finished  - yes, I know a proper Shed is never really finished, so let me rephrase:  Before the siding and roof were even in place, Australian creatures started to invade the Shed.  They crawled, slithered, hopped, flew, buzzed, sprang, glided, perambulated, skulked, and abseiled into it. They must have thought, "Finally!  'Bout time someone put up a shed in our corner of the outback.  We've been waiting millions of years just to get indoors."

The first new resident was this old girl.  I've seen gerbils that weighed less than this, and with less hair.  Actually, this suited me fine.  It was like having a watchdog guarding the place while I was away.  (Click for larger versions of pictures.)  It seems perfectly normal that the first creature to turn up would have eight legs.  There are an estimated 20,000 species of spider in Australia, 90% of them still unknown to science.  A government biologist told me an account of a retiree who went for a walk in the "bush" (Australian term meaning almost everything that is outdoors), and was bitten by an unknown type of spider.  To his amazement, the older gentleman did not instantly drop dead.  Instead, he found that on the wrist on which he was bitten, his arthritis was completely gone.  Cured for a period of three weeks.  They've tried for years to find another one of those spiders - no luck so far.  They should check in my Shed. Maybe it's one of these:

I'll show you more spider pictures in a future post.  The biggest spider I've caught to date was this one:

Huntsman spider.  Terrifying
and totally harmless
Yes, that's an inch ruler next to it, and yes, you are reading it correctly.  That is a 5" leg span.  Do not come to Australia if you have a problem with spiders.  Like I did.

Well, I got over it, somewhat.  The human brain has much greater plasticity than people used to think.  You can change anything about yourself that is not helping you be happy or successful.  And I'm not selling a self-help program.  It's actually true.

Earlier in my life, if I even saw a spider from a distance I'd have nightmares about it for days afterwards.  I had a genuine, full-blown case of Arachnophobia.  A clinical and irrational fear of spiders.  And of all places to end up!  But with a really good camera and not much else to look at around here, my unconscious beliefs about spiders altered in a subtle but important way.  I still do not want them on me.  Yes, if a spider happens to make direct contact with me in any way, I still do the "creepy-spider-creep-out dance" -  you know the one: wiggle and shake everything available and jump around while repeatedly slapping and brushing your body all over for 5 minutes.  But now, rather than merely horrible and terrifying, spiders to me are interesting as well. These days if I see a tremendous hairy eight-legged monstrosity ambling across the floor of my shed, I exclaim, "Holy Mondeo! Jeepers Chrysler! . . . . .  I wonder if I can get a close-up of its fangs."   I could.

A Swag.  Notice how often 
a stick comes in mighty useful.
In school they always taught us that mammals are mammals because they bear their young live rather than laying eggs.  Only birds, reptiles, fish and insects lay eggs.  Right?  Wrong.  Before the Shed was here, I used to camp out on my vacant 5-acre wooded block of land in the bush.  I slept in a canvas "swag," an Australian invention that combines tent, mattress and sleeping bag rolled into one rugged, manly and practical item.  One night I was awoken by the sound of a wire brush being rubbed against the canvas, and for some time I sleepily considered what on earth that could possibly be.  At some point my brain became alert enough to realize it must be an animal of some sort, and that this animal must be very, very close by.  So close in fact, that it was rubbing up against my swag.  It is at this point that I leapt eight feet straight up in the air squealing like a girl.

An Echidna. 
Composing myself somewhat, I located my boots (checking inside them for unwanted surprises), a flashlight and my camera.  I was rewarded with a sight few people have seen.  A very rare animal found only in Australia: the egg-laying sharp-quilled mammal called the Echidna.  It is the only relative to the bizarre and improbable Platypus which also lays eggs and is a mammal.

Over the years all sorts of creatures have attempted to enter the Shed.  Some have succeeded:

Scared little lizard
in a saucepan

Poisonous Centipede

Blue-Tongue or Bob-Tail
Scorpion vs. Boot.
(Boot wins, but it took
3 stomps)
Very Odd Cricket
Spiky brave lizard

Some haven't quite succeeded yet, but were close:

Kangaroos.  Earth's Dumbest

16" Gould's Monitor

Rhinoceros Beetle

Mouse Spider (was chasing me)

Angry Blue-Tongue Lizard
(because he couldn't come in)


Scary Weird Lizard

Rare Jewel Beetle

One thing about this part of Australia where there are no crocodiles, dingos or sharks:  I am the top predator. Even with Redback spiders, centipedes, scorpions and poisonous snakes, I feel much safer in the Australian Bush than I do in, say, Wyoming or Park City.  They have bears, moose, mountain lions and coyotes, all of which are capable of doing me great harm.  Although a Blue-Tongue lizard will likely get to keep my finger if he gets hold of it, I hope I am smart enough not to go sticking my finger in its mouth in the first place.  While there are real dangers in the Bush, they are dangers that can be managed using Homo Sapiens' greatest evolutionary advantage.

A Brain.

Outback Australia is a most astonishing place to be.  And I haven't even shown you any of the birds or flowers yet!  Stay tuned.


  1. Cool fangs close up.

  2. So what's the difference between a poisonous critter and a venomous one?

  3. Rick: technically, venom is a subset of poison. In the bush, one wouldn't be pedantic about it. The bottom of my boot doesn't care.

    Snakes: I haven't seen any on my block, but I have seen snakes elsewhere. Dugites are rather shy, but tiger snakes will chase you down.