encounters


I understand: You wouldn’t catch up and release the creature shown below, like I did yesterday. You’d probably run screaming from the room that you saw one of these scurrying quickly across, possibly to retrieve a shotgun with which to dispatch so seemingly an alien invader (click it for the bigger picture):

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That’s where knowledge might come in handy. I say “might” because even if you know these are actually beneficial critters to you, they do have a Creep Factor of 15 (based on their pairs of legs), which can cause even the most rational person to run into the arms of the the nearest Orkin Man, or to roll up a gasoline-soaked newspaper, setting it aflame after attaching it to a 10-foot pole and whacking it to death.

Nevertheless, since it is spring and a high time when you might come across one of these, I shall implore you to administer mercy and restraint upon encountering Scutigera coleoptrata. They aren’t commonly called “house centipedes” because they are from the Planet Crawlazzz. They are there in your domicile helping keep in check the populations of other arthropods that also scurry around your place… assuming you don’t bugbomb it so often that you’ve modified your DNA and started growing additional thumbs. Out of your ears.

It won’t help them me pointing out that they are venomous, delivering their dose through a pair of modified legs near their heads. Worse still: they are faaaaaaast. Capable of moving at upwards of moving 1.25 feet per second. That may not seem like much, but let’s comparatively and unscientifically extrapolate:

If a one-inch-long house centipede can run its length 15 times in a second, that’s basically the equivalent of of a 6-foot tall person running 90 feet per second (6 x 15). Need an animal kingdom point of reference? Cheetahs churn up 103 feet per second. Need more? Compare that with the fastest human on earth, Usain Bolt, who holds the world record time of 9.58 seconds in the the 100-meter race. That’s roughly nothing more than a lousy 34 feet per second.

Like I said: FAST.

But put the broom down and hang on for a second, trying to keep in mind the old adage:

The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

See, house centipedes don’t care about you. In fact they are generally considered harmless to humans. But even if one [frightened squeeee!] was to end up racing along your leg, odds are not only wouldn’t it sting you, but if it did its sting couldn’t penetrate your skin. At worst if felt, it would be akin to a bee sting. Instead, what house centipedes care about and hunt are the creepy things that you’re living with — and make no mistake: you are.

So remember. If you kill a house centipede, the life you save won’t be your own. It’ll be those of the spiders, roaches, bedbugs, termites, silverfish and ants all around you.

I’ve heard seen my share of terrestrial wildlife while mountain biking in the Verdugos — lizards, toads, bobcats, coyotes, deer, a coast horned lizard, garter snakes. On this pre-gluttony Thanksgiving Day ride I added a baby rattlesnake to the list. Found, as seen below in the center of the frame, sunning itself on the asphalt section of the trail just below Tongva Peak (click it for the bigger picture):

It started moving off trail as soon as I stopped to admire it. Not having time to get my phone camera out, I simply pointed the handlebar-mounted GoPro cam at it to capture it before it disappeared in the scrub.

Here’s the timelapse vid of the bottom-to-top-to-bottom ride (my standard 5.75-mile route going up the Beaudry North and Verdugo motorways about 2,200 feet to Tongva Peak and then back down via the Verdugo and Beaudry South motorways):

One of the most splendiferous bonuses of having a backyard to walk out into is those times when I do so in the midst of a visit by any number of creatures. Though some are more welcome than others (I’m holding my nose and looking at you skunks), all are wondrous reminders that even at our most city-fied and urbanized, nature finds a way.

This morning’s encounter involved a very healthy and huge juvenile red-tailed hawk who I found perched high in the tallest of our twin palms.

It obliged me just long enough to run inside and return with my camera to get the following sloppy series as it made its exit northward to less paparazzi-rich environs (click them for the bigger pictures):

Crossing paths with a coyote in an urban environment is a brief affair — especially if you go on the offensive rather than the defensive. The last thing a coyote’s ever wanted around me is to get into some sort of stand-off as to who’s the dominant opponent. Mainly because I don’t give it the chance by charging and chasing and clapping and yelling at it to reinforce my immediate vicinity as a hazard to its well being.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for the coyote — both as a creature with a rightful place in the city; and as the top four-legged predator in the urban food chain. It means I do my part to minimize its habituation to humans.

Then there was this morning’s coyote, who was not only a new one on the block (our regular coyotes are a pair and larger), but a whole different animal all together. Returning from our dawn walk with Ranger, Susan and I heard some serious rustling in the neighbor’s ivy next to our garage and weren’t too surprised to find what looked to be a relatively young specimen. The surprise to me was that though it was well aware of our proximity, it was in absolutely no hurry to get away from us in large part because it soon became clear that it had a food item that it wasn’t interested in abandoning. Since the smell of whatever it was eating indicated some advanced level of decomposition, we decided to leave it alone in hopes it would pick it up and leave with it. The “it” in this case was initially thought to be the remains of a squirrel but later I saw that it was the rear leg and hip of a cat… judging by its condition it was not a recent kill.

Ultimately it did exactly what we’d hoped and ran off with the item, and I got the following video of the remarkable encounter that I’ve turned into three separate clips (iPhone-based apologies for capturing the first two vertically instead of turning the phone sideways like I did in the middle segment). It didn’t look entirely unhealthy, but there was something not quite right about the coyote. It demonstrated perhaps some sort of vestibular impairment by moving its head exaggeratedly and keeping it tilted to a degree, plus its imbalanced gait was additionally hindered by a slight limp that I saw when it finally fled the scene. PS, I should warn you ahead of time that the last frames of the third clip feature a maggot-covered cat limb:

UPDATE (3:03 p.m.): After the jump are three images visiting last week that I just found on our low-resolution front steps cam. The first two shots are from the previously seen pair who paid an early morning July 4 visit. The third still is of a solo coyote (perhaps the same one as encountered this morning) from the late afternoon of July 6 — with a kill (species undetermined… cat maybe?) in its mouth. Dude!

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So Susan and I were walking Ranger this morning, as we usually do. And we were at a point in the 1.3-mile route where we’re about midway up the long block of the street to the west of the one we live on. About 100 feet away we saw a black vehicle with the driver inside double-parked next to a silver SUV and a guy between the two who looked like he was transferring stuff from the latter to the former. My first impression was that he was just moving something from his car to the black one… maybe carpooling to work or something, or heading out for a July 4 trip.

Susan figured out that there was something more nefarious afoot when the guy saw us, slammed the backdoor of the black vehicle shut, dove into the passenger seat and the car sped off. I wasn’t functioning at capacity to grasp what had happened, but Susan had the presence of mind to figure it out and to get most of the license plate of the fleeing vehicle. And sure enough when we came around to the back of the silver SUV the rear window was smashed in (as badly pictured above).

Susan was also sharp enough to get a MUCH more detailed description than me of the thief and what he was wearing. I saw a bald guy. She saw a bald guy wearing a plaid button-up shirt with the sleeves missing. I relayed all this to the dispatcher after dialing 911 to report the crime.

I looked in through the hole in the glass and saw there were still a large duffel bag and backpack left inside, so if nothing else our presence prevented the scum from making off with a larger haul. But before we left I looked into the passenger compartment and was dismayed to find an iPod cable in plain site plugged into the dash and left sitting across the passenger seat. Seriously: who does that anymore? Answer: Only honey badger motorists who don’t give a shnitz. That and clueless people who leave bait exposed like that in such a predatory environment and still fully expect all their windows to be intact and it to be there in the morning.

But wait. It gets better.

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At the close of a very low key anniversary of my birth (very much the way I like them), while watching most of the first installment of History Channel’s excellent “Hatfields & McCoys,” I went to wash dishes and Susan went out back to wrangle Bink (who officially doesn’t come in at night unless his presence is officially requested).

Next thing I know Susan’s calling out “Possum!” and I go toward her fearing she’s found a stricken one. But as I’m coming out the backdoor, Susan’s coming in and moving to the front of the house and I follow her. In pursuit, all  she says is “It’s a big one!” and we throw open the front door just in time to see it scoot past along the walk and around the corner up the south side of the house. I follow at a distance so as to not further stress it out, and it decides to settle in between the green and blue trash bins, politely waiting for me to get my camera and even more politely allowing me to flashsnap its picture without hissing or showing off its bad-assly impressive set of teeth:

A fair share of people are repulsed by these amazing creatures, but as I’ve said before opossums have my utmost respect and compassion, in part because they’re beneficial creatures with an awesome ability to adapt to such a harsh environment, but moreso because frankly it’s hard out there for a ‘possum. Brutal even. Those in urban areas typically endure short and difficult lives fraught with perils that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. So to encounter a healthy mature one (albeit with what looks to be a wound on its muzzle, perhaps from fighting for a mate) — especially after the last two opossums I found were both infants and injured — is a gift I cherish.

Ranger’s bark by the backdoor yesterday brought me to her to find something absolutely awesome: A large transient bee swarm had came from who knows where to literally hang out in the backyard fig tree for a spell, and of course I got footage of the experience from various angles, accompanied by my narration that won’t be making David Attenborough or Jeff Corwin nervous anytime soon.

In this first clip, being such an awesomely unusual event of course I ventured outside among them for a closer look:

After checking them out from the ground (in part 1), I went upstairs to look out the bathroom window and get a brief and closer look at where the bees had massed in the fig tree:

Then I set up the cam  with the  spotting scope to get an up-close look at the teeming bee mass up in the tree:

Lastly and most coolly, I was onhand about an hour later when the bees decided it was time to move on. What I most like about this clip is that as the group breaks up you can see what lies beheath: the living infrastructure they’ve built amongst each other to hold the mass together:

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