Monday, February 15, 2010

Nocturnal visitors

Last night was not a peaceful night.

At 2 am, I was woken by Magic (my husky-cross) barking vigorously at something outside the bedroom window. (I keep the dogs inside at night because the local leopards have an unhealthy penchant for domestic animals.) As I was muttering at Magic to shut up, and shoving her half-heartedly with my foot, her barks rose in pitch to a note of hysteria, and she leapt off the bed and fled. Still struggling to wake up, I could hear a slithering, sliding noise at the foot if the bed. Clearly, there was something large in the room other than Magic and me!

After much groping about, my wavering torch beam lit up a three-metre-long African Rock Python (Python sebae) draped across the foot of my bed. Now I know that pythons aren't venomous and therefore I should have been delighted to see one so close up, but it's an awful lot of snake to find on your bed at two in the morning. These snakes sport beautiful iridescent patterns of chocolate, ochre and tan, but all I noticed, in the failing torch light, was how shockingly thick and muscular it was. I was particularly disconcerted that it had come straight in the open window in pursuit of my dog.

Rock pythons grow to 5 m (15 feet) in length so I suppose I should be thankful it wasn't bigger. They hunt mostly warm-blooded critters of impressive size (including large game) but also prey on crocodiles, which is a strong point in their favour to me (negative attitude toward crocodilians attributable to several unfortunate incidents associated with riverside living). Female rock pythons lay 50-100 eggs, each the size of an orange, which they generously coil about, to warm and guard.

As I sat wondering how on earth I was going to get a very large python out of the house without someone getting bitten, it caught sight of me, or, more accurately, the infra-red sensors in its lips were blasted with considerably more body heat than it had bargained for. It promptly realised the imprudence of its decision, and slid straight back out the window.

I was just drifting back to sleep, when 'Something' very large and hairy scurried across my face. Leaping up and groping for the torch, I felt 'The Something' scrabble across my head. Heart pounding, I switched on the torch to find a massive solifuge (the size of an outspread hand) crouched on my shoulder. Solifuges, like pythons, are harmless to people, but it's very difficult to distinguish between solifuge feet and spider or scorpion feet in the dark. I began to feel a little persecuted. I think Magic feels the same. Hitherto a keen snake hunter, she spent all night sitting stiffly in a corner, nervously scanning the room for out-sized reptiles.
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