Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Pest Control 101

The holiday season, aka Christmas, is wrapping up (pun intended), but with all that extra food lying around over the last week or so, I should probably talk about pest control.  Pest control isn’t all that difficult if you follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1: Focus

In order to eradicate your pests, you need to focus.  This means that you need to define exactly what you are trying to eradicate.  Are you going after all your bratty nieces and nephews-or just the ones less than three feet tall?  What about those terrifying eyelash mites we heard about in Grade Six?  The ones that literally dive in and out of your eyelashes with reckless abandon, sucking the juices out of them until they (the eyelashes) wizzle up and fall off?

eyelash_mite
Demodex folliculorum (maybe)

I think this is an unretouched image of an eyelash mite contemplating diving into its next eyelash with reckless abandon. But I’m a little suspicious of the overall quality of the information on the site where I got the image (everything you wanted to know about eyelash mites).

For instance, I found this quote kind of misleading:

“Actually they (Demodex folliculorum) like to burrow into the follicles. You don’t have any symptoms. But your eyelashes can get irritated and very itchy. This can cause our eyelashes to fall out.”

Hello?  Last time I checked, irritation is a symptom.  Like when your patient says, “My eyelashes are irritated.”  That’s a symptom.  And if you’re really on your game that day, you will immediately counter with a patient-centered interviewing technique and ask,

“What do you think might be wrong with you?”

The patient will probably say, “I literally think I have eyelash mites.”

And what about itchiness?  Same story.  It’s a symptom too.

Eyelashes falling out is a symptom if the patient tells you about it, but if you happen to see eyelashes falling out on physical exam, then it’s a sign, not a symptom.  But maybe I’m splitting hairs.  And who the hell actually examines their patients these days anyway?

I’m just saying you should be a little wary of some of the stuff you read on line.  Especially the stuff in some of these would-be humor columns.

But I’m getting way off focus here, so let’s talk about spiders.  They make pretty good pests since many of us non-spiders are terrified of them.  And supposedly we’re less than three feet away from a spider  literally everywhere on Earth.

OK let’s stop right here.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but to me it seems like literally everyone  is misusing “literally.”  I wanted to see if anyone else was noticing this problem so I googled “overuse of literally.”  Literally less than one second later, my suspicions were confirmed.  Literally tons of people are concerned about this issue.  I found a great site that outlines the problem: stop saying literally .

The author, Liz Bureman, explains:

“When something is literally occurring, that means that it is happening exactly as described. Someone who is literally passing out from excitement has their eyes rolling back in their head, and is collapsing to the ground as we speak.

Usually, the intended word is figuratively, which means that whatever is happening is being described metaphorically. Someone who is figuratively on pins and needles with anticipation is really looking forward to something. Someone who is literally on pins and needles is currently experiencing small puncture wounds on their body.”

I literally adore the way Ms. Bureman thinks.

Note that just now I misused “literally” another way: I used it for emphasis when really, I should have been looking for some other adverb like “totally” or “absolutely” or “incontestably.”  Just saying.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, spiders.  Although I think they are great pests, it turns out that this whole less-than-three-feet-from-a-spider-almost-everywhere-on-Earth thing is another one of those pesky urban legends.  Just go to the truth about spiders where you’ll read about Norman Platnick’s tragic error back in 1995.  Norman Platnick is a famous arachnologist, in case you were wondering.

norm-platnick
Norman Platnick less than three feet away from a spider

You could also just try using some common sense.  Do you honestly think there are spiders crawling everywhere in Antarctica?  What about at the summit of Everest? Or during free-fall whilst skydiving.  Next time you are in Antarctica or on the summit of Everest, or in free-fall, take a look around, would you?

I want to move on but first I need to give you this short list of other things we’re literally never more than 3 feet from: nitrogen and oxygen molecules, our cell phones, someone bitching about Donald Trump even if we happen to be alone in a small capsule orbiting the Earth, 20 mph playground/school zones where there the nearest playground/school is literally 200 yards away, situated behind an 8-foot, barbed-wire fence.

Ok, we’re good.

I just realized that if we’re going to get serious about eradicating pests, right away we run up against a big problem, which is how to pluralize animals.  A good way to pluralize animals is to stick a male and female together for awhile.  You will probably wind up with more of that animal, sooner or later.

Now one platypus rooting around your yard isn’t such a big deal but what if there are more?  You will have a hard time getting anyone to take you seriously if you don’t get the terminology down pat.

You: Hello, I’d like to speak to someone about my pest problem.

Norm: Hi, this is Norm Platnick.  What can I do for you?

You: There are a bunch of platypuses rooting around my backyard.

Norm: Don’t you mean platypi?

You: Whatever.

Norm: I’d like to help you but I’m an arachnologist, not a platypusologist.  How did you get this number?

I literally just realized that I’m still in Rule #1 so I should probably make a new rule.  You need to know how to tell what kind of pest you’re dealing with, if it isn’t something obvious like a platypus or a spider.  This next rule will give some helpful pointers.

Rule #2: How to spot pests

If you have an octopus problem you’re likely going to find open jars of peanut butter out on the counter, or maybe open child-proof pill bottles.  You might find that all your combination locks are dangling open as well.  Octopodes are smart as hell and can open anything.  You really need to worry if you never had any peanut butter, child-proof pill bottles or combination locks in your house, because that means the octopus was bringing them into your house.  So that is one devilishly clever octopus.  Good luck.

Mice are easy.  Obviously you might see droppings or hear scritching sounds emanating from the walls.  More subtle signs include a note left inside the fridge:

cheese-request

Again,  good luck.  That is clearly not an ordinary mouse you’re facing although it seems to be polite.  It could have written: “More Gouda.  Or else.”  You should also probably watch “Mouse Hunt” a 1997 movie starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans and featuring guest exterminator Christopher Walken.

mouse-hunt

Elephants are tough to spot.  Clues include random vibrations of the floor, random earsplitting trumpeting sounds, and random small mountains of dung also called “cookies.”

What about marine iguanas Piece of cake.  They’re easy to spot.

This next image depicts a marine iguana feeling quite pleased about life in general and its new hairdo in particular.

marine-iguanas_2
Marine iguana relatively free of eyelash mites but facing a fairly serious algae problem

What about snakes?  A surefire sign that there are snakes nearby is if you spot a hatchling marine iguana hauling ass and literally running for its life. If you don’t believe me you need to watch this clip: hatchling marine iguana literally running for its life.

That clip is the best thing I have ever seen.  Seriously.  Even better than that picture in which two guys are dueling with van de Graaf generator-based weaponry.  You will be on your feet cheering your heart out for that iguana.

You can literally trust me on this.

 Next month: How to tell if you have a Komodo Dragon problem when you’re not a deer.
komodo-dragon-problem
Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Octopus Update

I know a lot of you are wondering the same thing I have been wondering lately: exactly what are all the octopuses doing on the ocean floor when we’re not keeping an eye on them?  I’m happy to report that after extensive research by agents of The Department of Keeping Tabs on Octopuses, it’s safe to say that they are doing plenty of interesting stuff.  It’s actually pretty hard to know where to start.

Octopus means “Eight footed” in Greek, so if you’re going to talk about more than one octopus, Greek convention dictates that you use “octopuses” as the plural.  Some people prefer “octopi” or “octopodes”, but to me, octopi sounds like a dessert, and octopode sounds either like some kind of worm or maybe a radio tube.  So I’m using octopuses. And my mother was Greek.  By the way, octopuses have arms, not tentacles.  Tentacles only have one sucker.  Each octopus arm has around 250 independent suckers.  Each sucker is roughly as intelligent as a small border collie.

Octopuses are smart creatures, generally regarded as the most intelligent of all invertebrates even when you include politicians.  They are master problem solvers, escape artists and camouflage experts. Rumor has it that octopuses are even being trained as special operatives by the U.S. Military, due to their unique abilities and powerful brains.

There are myriads of coconut shells lying around in many places on the ocean floor, mostly near places where there are coconut palms, oddly enough, and some octopuses have used this to their advantage. The octopus pictured below is comfortably ensconced in its coconut-shell house, already looking a lot like Casper the Friendly Ghost but still thinking hard about what it’s going to wear for Hallowe’en.

casper-octopus

But there’s more.

Julian Finn, an octopus researcher in Melbourne, Australia, was probably one of the first to report that members of at least one species of octopus have learned to carry two coconut shells around, scuttling about with an awkward gait known as “stilt walking”.

The following is a link to a clip of an octopus in field training as a Navy SEAL (Slimy Eerie Aquatic Leptosome) displaying its ability to seamlessly segue from stilt-walking to defensive maneuvering under enemy fire:   Octopus Stilt-Walking

If you can’t be bothered to watch the clip, here’s a capsule summary: a veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) lumbers along the seafloor, minding its own business and lugging its coconut shells.  Suddenly it stops, hops into one of the shells, pulls the other shell over top itself like a helmet, then rolls off down an incline.

Why did it do this?  No one knows.  Maybe it was late for supper.  And since you asked, supper for an octopus consists mostly of shellfish, which it consumes by “drilling a hole in the shell and slurping out the soft parts.”  I’m not sure how an octopus drills a hole though.

Male Octopus: “Honey, I just broke another drill bit.  I’m going to hop into my coconut-shell vehicle and roll over to Underwater Tool Den for a new one. Don’t wait up.”

Female Octopus (aka “Hen”): OK.  If you wake me up I’m going to peck you mercilessly.

The only thing wrong with that scenario is that octopuses are solitary creatures who only get together to mate.  Sadly, not long after they mate, they both die.  No wonder they’re solitary.

But sometimes the male’s demise is, for lack of a better word, untimely.  People are studying this for a living.  I know, because I found a paper which includes a positively riveting account of a hapless male octopus who was attacked, suffocated, had its ink-sac punctured and was ultimately cannibalized by a hen after mating with her 13 times in 3.5 hours. (That male probably had it coming.)  It’s a great paper which includes some beautiful color photos featuring coral, octopuses and ink-clouds.

inkjet

citation

I don’t know about you, but I happen to think that all this business with the coconut shells demonstrates a pretty fair degree of intelligence.  Man didn’t invent the automobile until the last 150 years or so, but octopuses have probably been rolling around the ocean floor in their shell vehicles since their debut in the Carboniferous Period more than 300 million years ago.  (By the way, the Carboniferous Period is that epoch in Earth’s history when nobody was worrying much about carbon dioxide.)

But intelligent creatures are easily bored, so if you stick an octopus in a tank, you need to give it some stuff to diddle with, otherwise it will probably try to escape. You have to basically weld the lid on to the tank because an octopus can fit through a pretty small hole, as shown in this faintly disturbing video clip: Octopus oozing through a small opening

If it can’t escape, a bored octopus might resort to amusing itself by chewing on things such as one of its arms.  (Don’t worry; the arm will grow back.)  This sounds suspiciously like my border collie, Mickey.  He too, is easily bored and will amuse himself by selecting one toy out of his vast array and worrying at it until all the stuffing comes out.  So far he still has all his appendages though.  From time to time, when I’m bored, I amuse myself by wondering what would happen if you crossed an octopus with a border collie.

When I was trolling the Web for octopus facts, I got to thinking about how people decide how many interesting facts they will post about any given topic.  The first few sites I went to listed an even number of octopus facts.  So I thought hmmm…octopuses have eight arms and eight is an even number.  Maybe I’m on to something here…But then I started running across sites that listed prime, or at least odd numbers of octopus facts: 11, 15, 35.  So much for my theory.

The only thing I can safely conclude is that there are a lot of octopus-fact sites out there, and most of these sites reference a book by Katherine Harmon Courage called: Octopus!  The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea. I have a copy but I haven’t read it yet.  I think you should get one.  Then you won’t have to rely on me for your octopus information.

octo-book

Speaking of information, one site I went to noted that octopuses are “limited in their ability to gather information” due to their short lifetimes.  That’s probably a good thing.  Who knows what one would do if it had more information.  Run for President maybe?

There’s a lot more I could get into, such as the copper content of their (blue) blood, their ink, their hectocotyli (don’t ask) and last but not least, the “Dumbo Octopus”.

dumbo-octopus

I’m running out of space, so I’m going to close with a few simple dictums for would-be octopus owners:

  • Never give your octopus access to any books; especially not ones about making weapons.
  • Don’t put a shark you happen to be fond of together with an octopus. A big octopus can break the spine of a shark.
  • It’s OK to have other pets in the house if you have an octopus. I read about an octopus in Thunder Bay, Ontario that was friends with a dog.  Whenever the dog pressed its nose to the tank, the octopus would come up to the glass and change colour: black where the dog’s nose touched the glass, and brown to match the rest of the dog.
  • By the way, if you own a border collie, consider getting an octopus to keep it company. If you have an octopus but no border collie, I might lend Mickey to you.
  • Consider letting your octopus run in the 2020 Presidential election. We could do worse.

Next column: Interesting facts about border collies