Sat 18 Aug 2007
In the front section of today’s L.A. Times there were three items that caught my eye. One was how not to report about tarantulas, another was how to report about ground squirrls and the last sparked a bit of a personal outrage:
Let’s take the first one last…
In a page-one story about how Sudan is just saying pffft to U.S. economic sanctions against the country over the past and continuing genocidal violence in Darfur, I learned that both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are utilizing a loophole in the embargo that allows them to sell their products to Sudanese factories. Apparently gum arabic, a tree sap used as an emulsifier in a bunch of consumer products — among them Coke and Pepsi syrups — was strategically left out of the sanctions put in place by Congress because Sudan controls most of the world’s market for that commodity.
While I can understand the cola giants’ need to purchase that ingredient, what bothers me is the decision made to keep selling their stuff there. Well, it’s good thing they’ll be making profits there because they won’t be making any off me anymore, or at least for as long as they still continue to reap what amounts to me to be nothing more than blood-stained revenues from their sales there.
And now in overtly sensationalistic spider news…
It’s a trifle really, but one that irked this spider lover. A short item in the paper’s “Nation In Brief” section looking quickly at how SPCA officials in New York have taken in a pet tarantula that its guardian said he could no longer look after. But from there on through the quick end of the piece you’d think golden baboon tarantualas are the evilest arachnid out there:
“This is the kind of spider that nightmares are made of,” said Roy Gross, chief of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He said the African spider can jump three feet and its bites are dangerous to humans.
Of course the hardly veiled implication from that last sentence is that this tarantula is deadly to humans and won’t fail to take an opportunity to sail unprovoked the yard distance between it and the nearest person to plant its fangs into a neck or ankle.
Please. The things eat roaches and crickets and mealworms — that make the mistake of entering its denweb!
Sure, the golden baboon tarantula is considered one of the more aggressive of the species and not a good tarantula for beginners to keep in captivity, but it would’ve been nice if in the short-shrift the Times Wire Report spent painting the creature as “nasty” or “mean” had even the slightest attempt been made to balance the coverage with a little less exaggeration, or at least made mention that their bites are not deadly (except to some of those at risk of anaphylaxis).
And lastly yet more reason why ground squirrels rock:
In the “Science File” section I found this awesome story about coming to understand why ground squirrels employ a certain weapon in their defensive aresenal to ward off rattlesnakes. If you didn’t know it already, ground squirrels are literally fearless when confronted by the predators and won’t hesitate to go nose-to-nose with them to protect their young — in part because they’ve evolved with an immunity to rattler venom.
In a face-off, the rodents will kick dirt, scratch and bite and do a lot of exaggerated tail waving, the latter of which Aaron S. Rundus, a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska, recently figured out why — and it’s totally righteous fascinating… at least to me:
Researchers long ago noticed that squirrels used their tails to wave off rattlers, even at night when the effort seemed useless. But snakes’ heat sensors don’t require sunlight.
On a hunch, scientists staged a confrontation between a snake and a squirrel, separating the adversaries with a wire mesh while recording the action on infrared video. The squirrel’s tail shot to 82 degrees, which made the animal’s infrared image look bigger.
To study the snake’s reactions, researchers created a robot from a taxidermy squirrel. As the robosquirrel’s tail grew warmer, the snake’s body posture shifted from a slithering offensive mode to a coiled defensive position.