Friday, January 14, 2011

Wearisome wildlife?

Everywhere is flooding, except here.

Admittedly, the river at the bottom of my garden (the Oliphants) sounds like an express train, and is tossing up great waves and spume of muddy brown water. But so far the torrent is only just brushing the twisted roots of the fig trees. Walking the dogs along the bank as the water rose, I was amazed by the yellow-billed kites, zooming along the shoreline in search of animals fleeing the flooded reed beds. My dogs nearly went berserk at the tempting scent of displaced cane rats and, down on the water's edge, pairs of blacksmith plovers dashed back and forth snapping up bedraggled insects.

Summer treat. The view of the Oliphants River from my house; normally I only get to see swathes of sand.

Thanks to the rain, everything here is resplendent and green; the grass is waist high and the bush a dense tangle of spiders' webs and foliage. Hidden in the depths of the greenery, the mongooses are busy raising their second litters and the pups from the first round are rushing about self-importantly chivvying and cuddling the new arrivals.

I couldn't imagine a lovelier place to live.
Well sometimes, the wildlife encounters get just a little bit wearisome.

Earlier in the week Magic (my husky-cross) was skewered in the nose by a rapidly reversing porcupine that she was hassling through the mesh fence (blood everywhere). The following day I was startled to find her crunching up and eating the quills. Since she's never shown the slightest interest in quill-consumption before, I can only assume she's desperate to erase all evidence of being bested by a rodent.

An apple a day keeps the dogs at bay
(well, maybe you need some prickles too...)

Last night my wildlife encounters deteriorated further when I accidentally squished a reed frog in the front door (worse for him than me, I know, but it still left me feeling awful). And now I'm eating pasta again - for the fifth day running - because the mouse living in my kitchen (I think it fled the roof) keeps nibbling holes in packets of premade sauce. I've been intending to live trap this bolognaise-mad fiend (since my cats are failing in their only conceivable function) but during the last couple of days my kitchen's rung with the small squeaks of sibling rivalry. So now I can't relocate Mum without inflicting mass death and destruction.

Of course my mouse isn't your ordinary sort of house mouse (I got suspicious when she preferred sultanas and sweet potato to bird seed and peanuts). She is, in fact, a multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis); so named for - you guessed it – her extraordinary endowment of mammae (nipples).

To quote the mammal field guide,
"The multimammate mouse is the most fecund of all southern African mammals, 22 foetuses having been recorded in a single female."

Oh good. I wonder if they'll all like pasta sauce.

Staying abreast of the future. Lady multimammate mice are equipped with 8 to 12 pairs of nipples.
Photo posted on Flickr by Batwrangler.

Forthcoming snake-attractant.
These diminuitive multimammate mouselets are 3 days old.
Photo posted on Flickr by Batwrangler.

Since achieving global notoriety, the Large Predatory Beast dwelling in my roof has been lying low. I've taken no proactive steps, apart from shaking my fist at suspicious ceiling noises and shouting 'Stay up there, you bastard!' (ah, the joys of living alone). So I guess I can only blame myself for what took place a couple of days ago.

I was innocently curled up on the sofa reading a book when the dreaded happened.
Something fell out of the ceiling and landed on my head.
It was not small, and it was alive.

Heart-pounding and breath coming in gasps, I forced myself to stay still as the animal slid/slithered down my hair and on to my right shoulder. Not daring to turn my head to see what it was, I sat frozen, fervently hoping I'd be mistaken for an inanimate substrate. I could tell from the feel of it that whatever was poised on my shoulder was reptilian; you know, yielding on the outside but firm beneath (the texture that rubber snakes replicate so scarily). But after about 10 seconds of sitting perfectly still, my apprehension grew too great to bear (imagination is a highly overrated attribute) and - although I knew I may be precipitating a strike (fangs in the neck, urrgh) - I screwed my eyes shut, gritted my teeth and gave a small shrug.

The creature started, and then sIithered rapidly down, onto the arm of the sofa. I was already on my feet by the time I caught a glimpse of it. Sitting staring at me anxiously from the armrest was a very large Turner's gecko!

Now I should have felt relieved. I mean I was relieved; there are many worse things it might have been. But I guess I had too much adrenalin pumping around my system to feel anything but gasping anxiety. The gecko and I stared at one another in mutual antipathy. Still shaking, I guided it up the wall to the shelter of the curtain.

Now I NORMALLY like geckos. The ones in my house achieve gargantuan size because they sneak in and feast on my mealworm colony every night. This one was about 22 cm (9") long and 5 cm (2") across the tummy (no doubt worm-filled). Surprisingly it was still sporting a tail; most of my residents lose this appendage at the paws of my cats (we're only playing...).

Of course geckos are fascinating creatures and I'll probably write a post about them at some point in the future. But right now, I don't even want to think about geckos.

I'm sincerely hoping that my wildlife encounters will take a turn for the better soon.

The culprit. Turner's geckos (Pachydactylus turnerii) are close relatives of Bibron's geckos.


  1. I don’t know how you managed to sit still for 10 mins but I guess if I had of thought the beast was sitting on my shoulder I would still be frozen to the spot!!
    I guess the squeaking means either your pasta sauce is a goner or the beast is going to be very happy!!
    Great to hear the mongoose family is doing so well. Diane

  2. Dear Lynda,

    "Oh good. I wonder if they'll all like pasta sauce." was droll enough to make me laugh out loud.

    a new(ish) reader

  3. Even though I realized that, since I was reading a post you'd written, you must have been alive and well post-reptile-encounter, I was a bit frozen myself as I read your suspenseful description of the Unidentified Falling Object.

  4. Yikes! OK, does that mean there may not be any sort of dangerous - or even risky reptile up there? At least for now...

    After reading Sherlock Holmes, and Kipling I had the impression that having a mongoose about the house pretty well took care of the snake problem. (Grin). I guess not. Terrific hearing, sharp eyesight - and nerves of steel seem to be the way to go. ATB!

  5. Next time you're shopping, stock up on the pesto instead!

  6. Reading this suspenseful post reminded me of my own heart-pumping encounters with a rattlesnake tickling the hairs of my armpit with it's tongue, and a 14 inch long Tokay Gecko sharing my bed, ( and a 6 inch scorpion) for 5 nights running in Thailand. Wonderful memories if you survive them.
    I do worry that you are using up all your quota of close calls.

  7. LOL....I would have run outta there screaming like a teenaged girl! I get the chills just thinking about it. After meeting your prolific mouse, suddenly my regular old house mouse infestation doesn't seem so bad! Cute little buggers though.

  8. Diane,
    My snake food supply is now dwindling thanks to Silver (my cat) who ate mother mouse yesterday. I did try to mount a rescue attempt, but it was all over (apart from a revolting pile of entrails) in less than 2 minutes. However, I caught a glimpse of one of the youngsters and it looks big enough to fend for itself, so I've stopped feeling bad and resumed worrying about my foodstuffs.

    Thank you for your encouragement. I'm always delighted to hear from new(ish) readers, especially one with such an entertaining blog.
    And they do (like pasta sauce).

    I trust you've recovered full use of your appendages. UFOs are unpleasantly common in my house; I suspect they're all opting for free-fall in a desperate bid to escape The Beast.

    Sadly not. The ceiling-dwelling geckos are simply one of The Beast's favourite snacks. However, I haven't heard anything dying up there recently, so I'm hoping (praying?) that The Beast's gone walkabout. Maybe all its food has scarpered.
    Meanwhile I'm cultivating those nerves of steel...

    Lateral thinking; wonderful.
    I'm favouring foods in tooth-resistant cans and jars just now.

    Urgh! Didn't you mention somewhere that you had a weak heart? These sex romps MUST stop. I knew Thailand had an active sex-trade, but geckos??

    Rascal Rescue,
    Yes, way too cute. I can't decide whether to aid and abet Silver's hunting efforts or rescue the hapless beasts. Oh the complexities of life!

  9. Oh dear, I got goose bumps just reading about the slithery creature on your shoulder. I once woke up from a barefoot nap on the shores of a western stream and realized my bare feet were about one foot from a rattle snake. I took a deep breath ... a long one ... and since the snake wasn't coiled, I figured I could quickly move. ... my heart was definitly moving.

    Advice from my mother: Save all your jars .... stuff your packets of pasta sause, i.e. all mouse food in mouse proof containters; Always keep my beautiful seed necklaces hanging .... don't leave them where the mice could find them eithee; and store the pizza pans upside down so the mouse droppings can just be brushed off.

  10. Elva,
    Urgh! Playing footsie with rattlesnakes is seriously scary. Thanks for the anti-rodent advice; your mum's obviously a veteran at dealing with mouse invasions.


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