Scorpions… and childhood

Photo: Per-Anders Olsson (used with permission), Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version

Scorpions and childhood“, two great tastes that are not great together. Hint: you may not want to eat while reading this post.  Bodily fluids aren’t generally involved, but some people don’t like icky creatures to impinge on their eating experience. Hey, just bring this up the next time you are fasting. That way, you won’t want to eat at all. 🙂

So, I spent my  early-ish formative years  in Las Cruces, NM.  That is, 30 miles from the Mexican border. VERY far south New Mexico.  Las Cruces is now three times the size of what it was when I lived there. We lived in a small, one street sub-division that was walking distance from our school, and mostly surrounded by farmer’s fields and massive irrigation canals, and a lone (but very busy) two lane freeway who’s next major stop was in Texas, and the Mexican Border, respectively.

There were dung beetles at work in the far back corner of the playground of our school, and even the stink bugs looked like dinosaurs and were as big as a child’s fist.  We had two different kinds of scorpions, including the beauty there pictured, plus the little brown ones that could actually kill you. We had no less than 25 different kinds of rattle snakes.

Oh yes, and we had the infamous, candy colored lizard with poisonous breath, who will bite like a snapping turtle and not let go– except he’s also working deadly poison into your blood stream [Ed: they were called Guilla Monsters where I grew up, but I’ve seen other names, like “horned lizards”– which is odd, because we had horned lizards that looked like spiny toads, that were completely harmless, save the spines.] . Never saw one of those in all my travels, save for a preserved one behind glass at the Natural History Museum in Chicago.

My dad used to say to mom, “Honey, at  least we don’t have the black Mamba. There’s no cure for that. And, hey, we don’t have those poisonous tent spiders from Australia.”  It’s a wonder my mother slept at all.

She grew up in the rural part of Michigan, where most snakes were either just scary and annoying– unless it was a swamp rattler. They also call them water moccasins, and yes, they exist even in the Midwest. In my 25+ years of wandering the wilds and swamps of Michigan, I’ve seen– a grand total of one. Ironically it was lounging in a not-so-rural botanical gardens. And yes, I’m certain of the call because I was walking with a fellow naturalist– who had a degree and did lots of nature-related things. I had to talk him down from a tree after he nearly stepped on it.

And I did this sort of wandering constantly every summer since I was two years old.  I was left pretty much to myself (past, oh, age 6-7 or so)  outside in the Back 40… which really was 40 acres of wild woods, a fallow field or two, plus a creek, a river and swamp land. I didn’t die. I really didn’t die.  When I was older I was even pulling various cousins out of the swift parts of the river, because I knew were all the slippery fast dangerous places were, and knew to be near by when they started heading toward them. Partially because my mom, grandma, grandpa and aunt and older cousins all took turns pulling me out of all those places when I was young and stupid.  🙂

I will grant you, I was a stodgy  little child who was more paranoid than my parents were. But… even my cousins and brothers, who were very different sorts of people, were treated pretty much the same way. They didn’t die either. Part of it is because we knew what they needed to look out for, and after a few close calls they learned to discern where dangers were, and look out for themselves.  That is how kids learn.

However, this is about desert danger, which seems all the more appropriate for Lent.

When I was a kid in New Mexico, they brought in a Naturalist to class when I was in the second grade. Besides bringing in snakes and scorpions in for us to look at, (even, in the snakes part, pet and whatnot) they showed us how to safely kill and handle snakes and scorpions.   [Ed: Best education I ever got in a public school, I have to say!]

Basically– if you don’t have a can of Raid, you can always get a hand full of sand (other granular dirt also works, or so I’m told). The thing about scorpions is that while they are dangerous, they are also stupid. If you sprinkle sand on their backs, they will stab themselves with that big nasty tail and die from their own wounds.  All you have to do is sprinkle sand, (hand held HIGH from a safe distance) stand back, and peek between your fingers to make sure the dang thing hasn’t started growing extra legs and develops super-powers.  They die fairly easily. It is just because they are mean looking and scary that makes them so seemingly powerful.

So, I think that every Catholic church in the Southwest should have a bowl of sand all year round. It should be there right next to the holy water dishes up front, in case of scorpion emergencies. Just saying.

The thing he’s holding in his other hand is a snare that attaches around the snakes neck, _right behind the head_. I was taught to leave a little more room from the tail proper, but the principle is the same.

I have one other gem for you. I was also taught how to handle a snake so he can’t bite you. You hold him firmly behind the head, and also his tail, only about a foot or so back so he can’t wrap his sinuous body around you. Then, you can harmlessly take him outside and toss him away without hurting anyone.

Well, about a month after this presentation, a 6 foot rattler was discovered in our playground.  The dreaded circle of children were standing around it, making funny comments and talking about calling the janitor to go kill it. They were taking their sweet time about it.

I, being the self- righteous little brat that I was, did not want to see those kids get some big bully to kill the snake. While I didn’t have anything against the janitor, I had my suspicions that they just wanted to watch something die, which wasn’t fair. Just because the snake wasn’t where he was supposed to be, well, didn’t mean he had to be killed. So, I picked up the snake, exactly like I was taught, and tossed him over the fence.  Fortunately, he high-tailed it the other way, speeding away from the playground.

I was rather distracted, so I didn’t see two teachers and the janitor appear just in time to watch me do the deed.  And, all sorts of loud indignation took place. They couldn’t exactly punish me, because I ultimately did what was needed. But I still put myself in danger, or whatever. Like we weren’t in danger while those boys were jeering and teasing the snake!   Being recalcitrant  I still believe I did the right thing that day.

Remember that thing they say? Scareder of you than you are of it? Just remember that if you are dead, they still might want to eat you. But making you dead is a big price to pay for a creature that still wants to live.  Human beings really are still the most dangerous critter out there.

Now, I can’t speak for hungry bears or angry wolverines – or creatures who are furious beyond sense.  But for most modern dangers, if you are calm and deal with the problem swiftly, generally speaking you can avoid woe and pain.  Also, wear good boots, and check the bed before you jump into it.

Ironically, I think all that unsupervised time is why I am so calm about natural problems.  I’m the designated “deal with icky creatures” person in my household, because husband is terrified of snakes. Wild things that don’t belong tend to startle me because I’m surprised, but once I know what they are, I know how I want to deal with them.

The best way is to have your own critter protocol.  For me, mice and rats are just dead. If they happen to be moving around inside my house, it is because they haven’t been enlightened yet. They spread disease, which in my mind, is far worse than a poisonous bite.  Scorpions and snakes don’t wander around liberally sprinkling excrement where ever they go.

This is why mice and rats as pets are completely different. I think they are very cute, and  might keep them myself if I didn’t have two top tier predators who might try to meow piteously at them, then gamely attempt to lick them to death.

But that doesn’t mean that I won’t take a wild one to meet it’s maker if it happens to shelter in my house. I don’t like killing the creatures, but for the safety of my family, I will do it. I mean, no one has a shelter for wild mice yet. If you trap and release, they will just take up residence in someone else’s home.

Spiders I will trap and release just because they are the sort of creatures that do us a service. They eat the other bugs I want dead.  I am on pretty good terms with spiders. Hey, When I lived in New Mexico– you had a choice. You could either live with spiders, or live with roaches. (The third option was to live in an insanely toxic environment– which our household had too many allergies to tolerate)   Spiders are much better neighbors, in my not so humble opinion.

My exception to this rule is poisonous spiders. I will kill those, and not think a thing about it. I even have an obscure fondness for recluse spiders, they have a pretty pattern on their backs, and black widows are beautifully bad-ass. But… They still die in my house for the sake of civilized living.  I especially recommend shoes or boots for that, or a broom handle if they are up high. For trapping, you can always use a sturdy clear plastic cup and a sheet of cardboard or a paper plate to slide underneath for easy transport.

I must stress the need for a *clear* plastic glass, because glass can break, and if it’s not clear, and you have to stop in the middle to deal with another emergency.   You can loose your prey because some lazy person wants a glass of water.  It might even be yourself after you’ve forgotten to take the thing out doors. Don’t look at me like that. It has happened.

Wasps die. Bees usually get trapped and released, unless they have made a full nest in the house– I don’t really know how to trap bees on that scale.  I suppose in that event, I could always call the people the local co-op buys their honey from. I’ll have to look into that.  But those African killer bees, when they come, I will kill them until the National Guard welcomes them as our new insectoid overlords.

All nuisance bugs, from rolly-polys to roaches, also die. Silver fish are impossible to kill, so they tend to be ignored, and things are implemented to try to reduce their numbers.  I mean, what can you do to a creature that lives off of drier lint and particles from old books? I’m not getting rid of my books, though, but I only need to store so much drier lint for the zombie apocalypse. 😉

[EDIT: I will kill silverfish individuals when I encounter them. But when I say they are impossible to kill– I mean through the traditional use of poisons]

My vet swears that even people who aren’t lousy house keepers like me can suffer various infestations of wild critters from time to time. I suggest that if the idea freaks you out, study your options before you are scrambling to do something about it in half a panic while in the middle of the situation.

Lent is a good time to do that.

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