Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bugs in Victoria

Days Remaining to Next Beer: 335

A scant ferry ride and omelet special away if breakfast is still serving, a whirling watery whisk across the aquatic expanse to the well wooded wonderland of Vancouver Island, where escapist ambitions might be served without breaking the bank or losing days to travel.
I’ve posted previously about the appeal of Sooke, however I don’t feel I’ve yet expounded on some of my favorite things in Victoria, at least that I’ve so far discovered, as I’m sure there is more there to like should we again bridge the divide from mainland to island.
I’ve mentioned Spinnakers before, and I will again, because they do well to offer tasty beers in various sizes with excellently brewed quality and service. I wish they’d open up shop on the mainland with the same sort of comfortable atmosphere and tasty refreshments.
Did I mention Out of Ireland, though? Great place to hole up and work on drawing comic book panels. And get a tasty pint of stout or bitter, chilled or house temperature, with a side of bangers and mash. No Scotch eggs, though.
The toy and comic shops we like I’ve also previously mentioned, particularly Cherry Bomb. Did I however mention how many other fun shops are around that neighborhood, like the mainstream comic shop with all the latest Previews / Diamond Distribution collectible offerings, or the shop along the slope towards the fetching blue iron bridge that has all the gag and silly gifts, more so than most schlock shops outside of gag gift wonderland Archie McPhees in Seattle? Great spot to find a zombie devil duck at a moment’s notice. 

And in the neighborhood down by the water you should explore the boutique shops as well, for while they might have zany clothing or overpriced designer t-shirts, they might well also have things like what I happily dropped dime for, one of Sucklord’s Gay Empire Stormtrooper bootleg figures on bright pink card. Sucklord’s crew make wonderful mashup music, tributes to themes like cartoon villanny and films like Star Wars. And they make wonderful original and bootleg one off toys, artistic statements or social commentary, or both, or neither, you decide. I simple recommend.
More than those spots, though, is the Victoria Bug Zoo. As a child I’d aspired to be an entomologist, and aspiration that started during one of childhood’s summer camps, had been further encouraged by the display and petting zoo in the Smithsonian, and recollected with some regret during the pupae scenes in Silence of the Lambs and more recently Season 3 of The Fringe.
You see, I love bugs, insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and invertebrates, etc. Sure, I don’t necessarily want to share a home with a lot of them. Silverfish eat books. Bed bugs, fleas, chiggers, and ticks eat people. Hook worms, mosquitoes pass diseases. Bot flies destroy flesh, as do some sorts of spider venoms, like that of the brown recluse. Black widows liked to occupy the upper sections of the outhouses people still used in rural areas around where I lived a kid, Folks would advise that you could use the outhouse fine, just don’t look up or go waving your hands around. And then they’d point to the box of corn cobs, what rural folks used for toilet paper. Surprised that never really caught on, considering all the corn America grows.
The praying mantis has always been one of my favorite insects. I’ve owned and attempted to raise a few Praying Mantises in my day, some found North American ones, some imported African ones. The North American ones always fared better, and I’d like to think the egg sack the one big mama I raised laid spawned offspring that continue to thrive in and around that neighborhood, thinning pest populations and protecting gardens and flower-boxes from vermin and vagrants. I’d rescued her off the side of the office building I worked at in downtown Cincinnati; walked out to have a puff during 15 minute break, the one that loses 10 minutes to elevator travel time, and noticed in my peripheral something green, a rare color outside of old women’s clothing in downtown Cincinnati, and looked up along the wall to see dozens of very young praying mantis slowly, warily ascending the building.

As I watched a pigeon swooped past and flew away with a young mantis flailing like an Australian chain-mail diver in the mouth of a Great White, stabbing ineffectively at the bird’s eyes with those juvenile forearms. I looked to my left, smoking forgotten, and saw a tiny mantis had stopped on the wall even with my shoulder, staring at me with its head cocked to one side. No shortage of litter in downtown Cincinnati, and a moment later my new insect friend sat on a bit of napkin inside a shaken dry plastic big gulp cup.

After work and a quick trip to the neighborhood pet shop, the mantis had a decent home in a big clear plastic cage with ventilated lid and a branch, leaves for shelter, and a jelly jar lid with water in it, cause Mantises like their drink.
Later on, when the mantis had grown to a size and developed purple shading along her abdomen, her gender had become amply clear. So of course I searched the neighborhood for a mate, a male. The pair lived together until, like most college romances, the charm wore off or they got tipsy at a mantis kegger, and took things to the next level. The mantis equivalent to the “walk of shame” is “leave no witnesses”, and after doing the bug with two backs, she snuffed him, bit through the back of his head to sever his spine, at least, that’s what I gathered from his headless corpse laid out on the bottom of the tank, upside down, arms folded like the typical roach silhouette on a can of Raid.
For a mantis, nine months is a matter of a week or so of sluggish behavior, altered appetite, and then one morning there is an brownish egg sack attached to the side of the tank, the mother sitting on her branch looking at the egg sack with deep, unblinking eyes. And a couple days later, she tumbled off her branch, dead. Eyes still unblinking.
I moved the egg sack outside because of the  event that happens when the babies hatch, up to a few hundred, where the weak and unfit ones get eaten to build strength for the fit ones before they all head off to claim turf of their own in the world.
A mantis is something like the lion of the insect world, and I used to put different insects into the tank with the mantis to see how they’d contend with them. A grasshopper would be handled differently than a cricket for example, the mantis seemed to know the threat a grasshoppers back legs were and slice those off first at the hip with a wood mulcher mouthy kiss before going for the grasshopper’s spine, severing it just behind where the brain would presumably be, and then the mantis would go after the tasty juicy bits.

Never feed a mantis lightning bugs. Lethal. Never house a mantis without somewhere to hide, to retreat too, the stress of being visible and unshielded will kill them. North American mantis mothers die after creating an egg sack. African ones do not, and if healthy can live a decade or more, though they are smaller than the North American ones and don’t breed with the North American ones no matter how off the hook the parties are, so pose little threat if released into the wild. An unpaired African mantis will still make an egg sack, though sadly barren, and then protect it, refusing to eat, and starve to death. Don’t leave the barren egg sack in the cage, fury is a great reason for a mantis to live, with dreams of revenge against the fat pink fingers that had stolen her babies, albeit non-viable ones. Mantis thrive on vengeance. And the hunt. And pretending to be a statue until an idiot unsuspecting cricket basically walks into the mantis mouth.
And the Bug Zoo in Victoria has several mantises. Another bug I quite like is the Rhino Beetle. There are several of those in residence there too, as well as a thriving ant colony, bees, leafs and walking sticks, scorpions, roaches, butterflies, centipedes, millipedes, silk worms, various other creatures and critters, and arachnids, many fine and utterly terrifically terrifying types of spider. The ones that really get me though at the Goliath and the Bird Catcher. Those might actually be different names for the same breed, I’m not sure. I didn’t, after all, follow my childhood dream and become an entomologist, so please forgive my colloquial classifications for these creatures.
The Bird Catcher has that name for being of a mind to hunt birds by dropping out of tall trees onto them as they fly by beneath wherever the spider happened to be perched. Ever see Arachnophobia? The big rain forest spider was one of these, or something closely related. I’ve heard they can reach a staggering scale of 16 inches across when full grown and legs fully extended, and can live a couple decades or more. They’re smart, fearless, potentially aggressive, and for all that, their bite is no more poisonous to people than the average bee sting. Not pleasant, but no worse than most A-list actors.

The spiders and scorpions that really scare me are all small, tiny, and largely lethal. I recall a National Geographic segment once on Arizona’s nocturnal wildlife, and with the aide of a black light just how many things were scurrying around on the rocks and ground after hours. I recall the side of one boulder seemed to be holding a convention for tiny, ultra-poisonous scorpions. Shudder.

Not many scorpions in Victoria though, and the brown recluse isn’t lethal, just does a lot of damage. You won’t see me sticking my naked hand into any woodpiles in the North West though, any more than you’d catch me lifting up tomato stakes in Tennessee without gloves on. Black Widows, for some reason, love tomato stakes.
And after a fun filled morning bugging out, why not head out to the shore line and to see the statue of Canadian legend & inspiration Terry Fox? Although up to this point I'd seen him on TV a bit and had a very vague sense of who he was, standing next to this statue, reading the plaque, and looking out to see the expanse of the ocean soon after like a metaphor for the odds he'd run up against, I got a sense of why he mattered so much to so many, and I felt impressed. I have friends and family and friend's family with illnesses I can't believe aren't yet cured. We're past 2010, where is space exploration, were is HAL, and where is the cure for cancer, or artificial limbs, or cures for MS, AIDS, LG Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, or a myriad of other things I would think and assert have more merit and more due cause for financial support than multiple on-going military campaigns in the Middle East or snap elections at the PM's convenience in Canada. Terry didn't need oil, except perhaps some WD40 for his knee, and neither do we, really.

So for fresh pints, fun shopping, and an eye full of bug, hop a ferry and go visit Victoria, BC.

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