Critters

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I mentioned earlier that I have a great love for creeping critters. This post is dedicated to them.

Warning: if you are arachnophobic, maybe skip this one as there are some (not very good) spider pics below.

I know most people do their utmost to discourage critters from sharing their living spaces. At risk of never having any visitors again, I admit that I am not one of those people.

I must hasten to add that my house is not completely overrun with creepy-crawlies. All things in their place. But I certainly am not adverse to tolerating a few of the more useful critters around the place. I believe there is a place in the world for invertebrates, and sometimes that place is pretty close to me.

There are a few I won’t share with, of course. More about those villains later.

But I certainly value my invertebrate buddies sufficiently that I will (hopefully, eventually) make a serious effort to build a part of the garden especially for them. Casa Creepy Crawly. The Bug Hilton.

Critters are useful, they have many important jobs to do. More to the point, we humans have a bad habit of trashing their habitats and forcing the poor things to scrape a living on the uncaring streets. If I can make them welcome I will feel as though I am doing my bit to preserve the homes of tiny people who were here first, after all. And they will undoubtedly repay me, in their buggy way, with many very useful little jobs about the place. (And let’s face it, they are apparently a bit more reliable than humans when it comes to getting jobs done around the garden and home.)

The Wormies

My very special new buddies in the garden are my families of compost worms. The little poppets. The Captain recently purchased a worm farm for me * so that we can have a never-ending supply of the elegantly-named ‘worm tea’ (aka worm poo juice) for feeding our plants. I’ve been using it, well watered-down, to feed my indoor plants and they are thriving.

The Wormies eat food scraps, which I lovingly chop into little pieces to make it easier for them to suck (they have no teeth), and they repay me by turning it into ‘tea’ and generating lovely rich worm casting-filled soil **. I have two compost bins as well, so I can afford to spoil the Wormies by only giving them the very finest: organic vegetable peelings, the very best quality fruit bits and leftovers. Recently they even had the last few very expensive organic blueberries that the Captain and I totally forgot to eat (oops).

Worms are precious, precious creatures. I love them dearly and I hope they continue to thrive in their home. At the moment the farm is very new and they aren’t eating a great deal, but they seem very active and are producing lovely rich ‘tea’ regularly. As the farm grows older there will be more and more Wormies in the family and they will eat lots more, the precious poppets.

I say good night to my Wormy family, lovingly. I haven’t yet started to sing to them, but it is only a matter of time. You can hear Darling Dog, also saying good night lovingly to a bird who is sitting in the tree just out of her reach.

Your Arachnid Friends

I definitely have a ‘Hagrid Complex’. I am a huge fan of a lot of creatures that are usually considered ugly, nasty or unloveable by others. (For example, currawongs, gulls, ibises and other opportunistic, adaptable birds that have taken all the rubbish and habitat destruction humans have thrown at them, and turned it to their own advantage. People who call them rude names like ‘Tip Turkeys’ and ‘Flying Rats’ would need to have a good, long look at humanity’s role in creating these situations. Then maybe put some value into their roles as scavengers, cleaning up rubbish that most humans are quite happy to generate but can’t be bothered sorting out. Anyway. Harrumph.)

Also, snakes. I think snakes are magnificent creatures and I really have no fear of them at all. Respect for them, most definitely. I am very careful when walking outdoors to be aware of the potential presence of snakes. If I see one I stay well away and I wouldn’t disturb them for the world. But every time I see a snake, I feel so privileged, and I find them utterly beautiful.

In the same way, I have developed a great and abiding love for many invertebrate species that are also generally rather unpopular. Our furry little friends, the spiders, are a particular favourite of mine.

Like many people, I grew up frightened of spiders. Then one day I had a Great Spider Adventure. Have you ever seen a Golden Orb Weaver? (Do not click the link if you can’t bear pics of spiders). These are huge, elegant creatures that have a habit of building sizeable webs between trees. Then they hang out on the web, you understand. The females can be so huge, they are the stuff of arachnophobe nightmares. But they are also very pretty.

A pine forest near our home, when I was a kid, tended to be home to these gigantic spiders. One evening, I was riding my bike quite fast through the forest, right on dusk. Apparently I couldn’t see quite as well as usual because I rode slap bang into one of these huge webs. Complete with gargantuan female spider.

In fact, I face-butted her. I actually spotted her just as my face was about to collect her. I didn’t have time to react, even though time seemed to slow down, like a scene in a horror movie. Noooooooooooooooooooo (splat).

I went down like a sack of spuds, and Spidey came down with me, clinging desperately to my face. Yes, she was hanging onto my face. She was nearly the same size as my face. Spider. Big spider. On face.

It honestly could have gone either way. I could have developed a hardcore spider phobia that stayed with me forever. ***

But as I stared in horror at the giant spider clinging to my face, and she stared in horror right back at me, before scrambling to her senses and doing the most hilarious comic run right into the forest, spidery legs flailing like an arachnic Ministry of Silly Walks, something in me snapped and went in the opposite direction. I howled with laughter.

From that day onwards, I developed a great love for all spiders. She was just so funny, and it was clear she had no intention of biting me. All she wanted was to get the hell away. Poor Spidey. (I wonder if she became a humanphobe?)

So yes, spiders are definitely one of the critters I am happy to tolerate around (and in) my home. (Mostly: the Captain and I don’t like white tails around.)

Inside the home we usually have a few Daddy Longlegs, hanging around in odd corners.

Wall spider

This little chappy is currently living in the bedroom – apologies for the blurry photo.

These harmless little beauties can be slightly annoying because of all the web-building, but they generally cope okay with the occasional web clearout. I like them because a) they are quite elegant-looking, and b) they are pretty effective hunters that knock off some of the invertebrates I don‘t like.

Around this time every year, we tend to start seeing the odd huntsman (again, a warning: the link goes to a picture of a spider.) These fuzzy babies are among my favourite spiders of all time. They are large, yes, and they are also skittish and incredibly fast. But they are also comical and extremely handy around the home.

There aren’t many annoying insects that can outrun a huntsy. Every year we seem to get at least one HUGE guy that lives by the front door (you have been warned). My yearly Door Spider is like a fuzzy, grey bouncer. He or she keeps annoying creatures out of the house. I always develop a bit of a close relationship with Door Spider, and feel quite sad when they move on.

By the way, I’ve been bitten by a huntsy (I’ve been bitten by a lot of spiders, including a redback: having no fear of them sometimes means that I get a bit careless around them.) Yes it hurt like hell but only for a short time. A bit of ice sorted it out and it healed quickly. Given a choice between a huntsy bite and a mossie bite, I’ll go the spider every time.

At the moment Door Spider hasn’t appeared yet, but I have a few of the Old Faithfuls around. These little chaps – not sure what they are (do you know? Answers on a postcard please) – are there all year round, and as you can see, they are most efficient when it comes to controlling the population of flies and mossies that hang around the front door.

Door spider 01Door spider 02

My Old Faithfuls, keeping the mossies at bay, bless.

Their webs may be a bit unsightly for some people, but to me they are beautiful because of what they represent: free, efficient pest control.

By the way, our Shannon Lush tells us that spiders hate the smell of lemons, apparently. Can’t stand lemons. So if you are the sort of person who doesn’t want free, environmentally-friendly pest control around your home, you can wipe lemon oil around your door frame. Also, I’m totally judging you.

Flippity-flappies

It’s nearly Guy Fawkes Night so we should start to see a few of the first flippity Bogong Moths appearing.

Sure, their flippityness is quite annoying, and they have a bad habit of dying in odd corners, and they scare the living daylights out of you when they fly right into your face at night (especially if you’re in bed!), and sometimes there are so many of them that they cover every available surface like a moth-blanket.

But also, they are important little people in this vicinity, and they are so lovely, and they are also edible (bonus!), and they have an important ecosystem role. And they come by at Christmas time. So they will always be welcome around my home.

Not so much in my home, though. A moth can get itself into all sorts of trouble living in a human house. And I’m not a fan of that slapping-into-your-face habit they have. When they come in, I carefully catch them and gently carry them back outside to release them. Where they are pretty much guaranteed to get eaten by Door Spider, or one of the many little bats that live in our trees, but hey, that’s life.

Shinybums

Speaking of insects that tend to show up around Christmas, it’s nearly Christmas Beetle time again!

These big bumbling shiny scarabs always seem to find their way into the house, even past Door Spider. They are annoying, aren’t they? With the buzzing and always rolling onto their backs and needing to be rescued, and the environmental damage, and the flying into one’s head and scaring one (always happens to me, but that may be my invisibility field).

On the other hand, they get eaten by other critters, including by the sugar gliders that I occasionally am lucky enough to glimpse in the tree they share with the little bats. Also, Christmas beetles mean Christmas!

My main interaction with them is to be constantly rescuing them from getting stuck on their silly backs, and carrying them out of the house, and shrieking and batting them away from my head.

Shooflies

I don’t actually hate flies. I don’t! Yes they are wonderfully evolved to be one of the most annoying creatures in Australia, but at least they are Australian, and even while I’m batting them away, I still hold no hatred for them.

When we were kids, if a fly ever got into the house there would be instant recriminations, followed by a massive fly hunt with a tin of insecticide.

Nowadays, if a fly gets in I just shrug. And the tin of Mortein is under the kitchen sink, gathering dust.

I don’t like spraying insecticide around indoors. It’s not really ideal with birds and dogs and things. But we have something so much more effective, so any fly that gets into the house is pretty much doomed. Dead fly buzzing.

Darling Dog: fly hunter.

Flybane

Flybane. No buzzing insect is safe.

Darling Dog is sweet and cute with little velvety paws, but they are the Little Velvety Paws of Death to any fly that is foolish enough to stray indoors. She will ruthlessly hunt down and dispatch all flies, like a dog. Hunt them down like a dog.

We don’t worry about flies any more because we have free, environmentally-friendly and highly effective pest control at home.

Cockies

Okay, I am not a fan of cockroaches in a house, and when I find them I remove them (the Captain ‘removes’ them with extreme prejudice, and a shoe, but I carry them outside). However, I just wanted to clear something up about cockies.

Cockies ain’t cockies. The sort we occasionally find in our house are large, shiny-backed Australian cockies. These guys live on plant products. They chew wood. They do not live in garbage and they do not carry diseases.

The worst thing you can accuse Aussie cockies of, are looking brown and scuttly.

So when you attack them with insecticide, you are introducing insect poison into your home for no especially good reason.

There are only five pest species of cockroaches in Australia. (There are over 400 native species.) It is possible to find the pest species in your home but trust me, it’s worth doing some identification before you break out the can o’ death.

When we first moved into our house it had been empty for a short time, and we did find some of those little brown German cockroaches. Now, those are pests, although they probably aren’t spreading disease either. But it’s worth getting rid of pests, especially if they are taking up useful resources from natives.

So the Captain and I put some traps out and shortly afterwards all the German cockies were gone. I have never seen another in the house: only the occasional scuttly bush cockies.

Nobody says you have to tolerate cockroaches in your house, but I’d think twice before you call in the exterminators. I’m not one of those silly fussy idiots who go on about ‘chemicals’ and ‘toxins’, but given that some insects really are good to have around, why fling around insect poison indiscriminately if you don’t have to?

Those black-hearted evil hell-beasts

I love nearly all critters.

These ones, I do not love.

This one is personal: it is quite possible that nasty illness that plagued me in my twenties, and triggered nasty things like the arthritis that I still have, was caused by a single mosquito bite.

Mosquitoes are not insects. They are a demonic plague sent to torment and kill us. They are our punishment for being such a pushy, nasty species. They cause all of the problems in the world. Wars? Mossies. Famine? Mossies. Natural disasters? Yep, mossies. Plagues? Definitely mossies. Mossies were even responsible for Reality TV.

I tell you, these things are the very essence of pure, distilled evil.

I would rather be bitten by a redback spider than a mossie ****. I would rather be bitten by a hand-sized huntsman than a mossie. I would rather be stung by a wasp. Given the choice between a snakebite and a mossie bite, I’d have to think about it pretty hard.

Mossie bites are painful and the itching and swelling lasts for days and they get infected and sometimes the scarring lasts for months. Mossies can make you horribly, horribly sick – and they will if they can, because they hate us all. They kill a heap of people, all the time. Mossies carry all sorts of viruses, some of which we haven’t even identified yet. Mossies are insidious, crafty things. They are probably all Nazis. If mossies could drive, they would cut you off without warning then laugh at you.

I don’t like to use insecticide but if I do, I reserve that death especially for mosquitoes. And the only time I do is if I can’t reach them myself. Mostly I would prefer to swat them to death. It’s more … personal. And it’s the only way to be sure.

When people shudder at the thought of my spider-friendly house, I point out that the only people better at killing mossies than humans, are spiders. Spiders, you have to admit, are specialists. And they charge a lot less than the people who manufacture insecticide. They want to do it for us, because they love us in spite of all our faults. My Old Faithful Door Spiders are mossie-killing geniuses.

Spiders that hunt and kill mosquitoes are true white hat-wearing good guys, and that is why I am more than happy to put up with a bit of web around the door frame.

Are you an invertebrate-friendly household? If so, who will you tolerate and who can’t you stand? Any tips for maintaining insect-friendly homes and gardens?

When my Door Huntsy shows up this year, I’ll see if they’ll pose for a photo so I can introduce you. But I’ll give you fair warning in case you have a spider phobia!

 

 

* A very thoughtful and romantic gesture, I was thrilled. You can borrow this idea for next Valentine’s Day, if you wish, or the birthday of your beloved. You’re welcome.

** And by being really cute.

*** There is obviously a big difference between being scared of spiders and having an actual phobia. Phobias are utterly illogical and not in a person’s control. I judge the merry hell out of anybody who tells me they hate spiders, but when it’s an actual phobia, I feel quite differently, and no way would I judge somebody for that.

**** In fact, I have been. It was a bit meh, really. I got bitten right on my chest by a cranky female reddie. I wasn’t sure what to to so I called the doctor. She asked me a few questions and suggested I put ice on the bite, take an antihistamine, and have a bit of a lie-down. I did and I felt fine, and although the bite swelled up a bit the ice did the trick. Total anticlimax.

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