This is the second half (or even third) of an article I was doing on the creepy crawlies of the South African lowveld. A wise man once told me that no-one likes to read long posts. Apparently I can only write long posts. Cutting them up into pieces is the best solution I can come up with. If you’re interested, you can find part 1 here https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/226/.
In part 1, I looked at some of the nice creepy crawlies. Yes, there really are such things. Now that we’ve got all the cute stuff out of the way, though, we can get on to more exciting things.
Reputable scientists have divided the arthropods into several distinct groups. We’ve already covered the “cute and cuddly” group. I’m going to start this post with the “You will soil yourself and never sleep again” group. These are the creatures which will terrify you, but won’t actually hurt you (unless you classify inducing a stroke as hurting you).
A few months ago, there was a huge flood down in the lowveld. My parents’ holiday home, which usually sits cheerfully on the bank of a dry riverbed, filled up with muddy water and sludge. My parents were away, exploring the Antarctic (as one does), so my sister and I went down to clean things up. As I was carrying yet another swollen, mud stained chest of drawers out to the growing pile of rubbish outside, I felt something tickling my arm. I looked down, and saw one of these sitting cheerfully on my arm.
It’s called a whip scorpion. It’s completely harmless. That little snippet of information, though useful, is not what springs to mind when your hands are otherwise occupied with a piece of heavy furniture and one is crawling up your arm to get you. What sprang to my mind was “AAAAARGH! I’M GOING TO DIE! IT’S COMING FOR MY SOUL!” On the plus side, I did manage to save myself a trip by throwing the drawers the remaining twenty metres to the rubbish pile.
Next we have the charming solifugid. Everyone is now familiar with these as a result of the gulf war. On the internet, they’re called camel spiders. Growing up, we called them Red Romans. Everything about them is frightening. For a start, they look like spiders. Huge spiders. On steroids. Their jaws are bigger than any spider’s, and due to their lack of pigment, they look like they come from the bottom of a cave somewhere. In Mordor. They move like the very wind. They can run at about 15km an hour, which for something the size of a matchbox is very fast indeed. Oh, and one last thing- solifugid means fleeing from the sun. Guess what? In the dry, hot lowveld, a human being cast a nice bit of shade.
As one of the less attractive members of the arthropod family, they have spawned a number of urban legends. The first is that they are poisonous. They aren’t. The Afrikaners call them “Baardskeerders”, which means beard cutters. The name comes from a myth that they chew off bits of your hair and beard while you are sleeping. They don’t. That having been said, we often sleep on mattresses on the floor in the bush. I have been woken more than once by one of these running over my face as I lay sleeping. For some reason, I always battle to go back to sleep again.
Some may question my inclusion of the next candidate in this group, but I’ve never heard of anyone being hurt by one. It’s called an orb spider. It’s a web spinner. On speed. They evolved to spin their webs over large game-trails. The largest game-trails in the bush these days are the dirt roads we drive around on. So that’s where the biggest of the orb spiders make their homes. They’re about as big, legs and all, as the base of a coffee cup.
We drive around at night quite a lot, in shorts due to the heat. Back in the day, we used to have a CB radio in the vehicle. The vehicle, by the way, is an old land rover with no roof, no doors, and, most importantly, no windscreen. As we drove through the bush at night, the CB aerial which sat front and centre on the bonnet, would cut through the webs, dropping them spider and all onto the floor of the car. I have very hairy legs. You can work out how the rest of the story goes.
Things have improved though. We use a hand held radio these days, so the aerial is gone. So now we catch the webs with our faces.
Driving at night can turn other, less obviously frightening creatures into objects of horror. Everyone knows what happens when you leave a porch light on outside in high summer. We drive around with hand-held spotlights, which is a porch light and then some. All sorts of things come barrelling out of the darkness to hit you in the face or arms. The most frightening of these are the cicadas. You may guess, if you’ve been keeping up with the group, that the ones down in the bush are larger than most, again, about the size of a matchbox. They are ugly, prehistoric looking things, with hard, angular bodies. If they come in at the right angle, and get you on a knuckle, they can draw blood. But what really sets them apart is that while they are doing so, they squeak like angry mice.
These are just some of our harmless friends we share our space with out in the bush. There are many others. Creatures like Koringkrieks (Short, spiky cousins of the locust), giant locusts, huge praying mantises and more.
But I seem to have reached the limit I set myself for the length of this post. It looks like I’m going to have to do a part 3 after all. I hope you join me. Next time we’re going to be doing the really dangerous stuff, and how they have assaulted my friends and family.
PS part 3 is at https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/this-is-the-thi/