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Musing: Scariest Creatures In The Woods
A very Happy Independence Day to all my American readers (and Happy Canada Day last week to Canadians). Based on the sheer number of tourists visiting Asheville this weekend, I’m betting many of you headed to the great outdoors to celebrate your long weekend. If so, I hope you avoided the scariest creatures in the woods.
You might be thinking I mean bears. After all, when I shared the photo of the family of black bears we ran into one morning, several people asked if we were scared or in any danger.
The short answer is no, for many reasons, but the biggest is we were a couple hundred feet away. I took the picture with a long lens, so we never needed to get close. We then went another way.
The fact of life here is that bears are everywhere. We’ve had encounters dozens of times over the years, mostly when hiking on the many trails. We give them plenty of room and back away slowly.
I don’t mean to imply bears aren’t dangerous. Of course they are. Never underestimate their ability to cause great harm, but they no more want to mess with us than we do with them.
The same thing goes for most of the other wildlife here. Bobcats and fox slink away as soon as they sense our presence. Coyotes are a little more brazen, but still avoid us. Elk are so big they barely even notice humans.
I’ll admit that living in Murrells Inlet for a couple of years meant many meetings with alligators, a creepy and prehistoric animal. We were cautious around them, but never had problems.
The similarity between all these creatures, besides the fact they can be dangerous if provoked, is their size. They are fairly easy to spot and avoid. I respect all of them, but I’m not terrified of them. In fact, I enjoy seeing them sharing the world with us.
What freaks me out, though, are the tiniest animals. Especially, one particular creepy critter. Ticks.
Just the other day, I felt a tickle above my ankle. A tick brazenly waltzed up my leg, purpose and menace in his stride. Unlike those bigger animals that do their best to avoid contact, this little sucker—and I use that term literally—wanted to attack me. He planned to sink his vampiric fangs into me and drain my blood. Slowly.
While they are sucking you dry, that might be infecting you with one of the many diseases they carry. The CDC lists sixteen—yes, 16—diseases ticks spread in the U.S. alone. I’ve had friends who’ve battled Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The effects can be severe and long lasting.
Bears aren’t running around, coughing in our faces, and sharing viruses. See why ticks are scarier? They are disease-spreading vampires.
But that’s not even the worst part of it. The worst is the phantom tick. How many of you right now think you feel something crawling on your skin just because I mention ticks? And if you weren’t before, now you’re thinking it.
If it gives you any comfort, I’m imagining them crawling on me. Right now. I’ve brushed myself off a half dozen times just typing these words. And I’ve done it countless times since I spotted and removed the crawling little arachnid from my leg the other day.
Within mere seconds, a tingling started in my scalp. I ran my fingers through my hair—trust me, that doesn’t take long since I have little hair—and couldn’t find him. I raced to a mirror and examined my scalp. No tick resided there. Still, I felt him. His sticky little legs. That probing mouth. The oozing germs.
Then another tickle announced itself on my thigh. His cousin was walking on my leg. I was sure of it.
I searched and searched, but he wasn’t there. But I felt another on my shoulder. Still couldn’t see him but now he was crawling down my back. Within minutes, I angled one mirror with another to prove no tick scurried about. Despite that, I felt them dragging their little bodies across me.
This fruitless search went on for a while. Fine, days. Even now, just typing these words, I have to stop repeatedly to search for more. Creeping and slinking their way.
Yet, not a single other tick existed. They were all in my mind. Planted there by that first, evil little critter.
How about you? Do you feel one now? Not yet?
Have you walked a path lately? Worked in your yard? Been near grasses or shrubs or flowers? If so, the little critter climbs the plants and out onto a branch, then they balance on their back legs, and reach out with their front feet. The little claws are grasping the air, hoping to snag a passing deer, the fur of a cat or dog, or the clothing of a human. Once they hitch a ride, they climb until they find a good vantage point to consume their meal.
Let me share this little article from National Geographic that explains exactly what happens when a tick bites you. Start with the description of its mouth:
The centrepiece is a long, sword-like structure called the hypostome. It has rows of backwards-curving spines along its edges, as well as its entire bottom face. It also has a groove running down its centre, which channels the tick’s saliva into its host, and channels the host’s blood into the tick.
On top of the hypostome is a pair of chelicerae—long rods that end in hooked teeth. The chelicerae are telescopic, so they can extend to just beyond the hypostome’s tip, or pull back to around half its length. They’re also mobile—their toothed tips can swing out to a 45-degree angle.
Backwards-curving spines? Hooked teeth? A channel for blood from its victim? Stephen King can’t dream up stuff that scary. If he can, I don’t want to read it. I couldn’t turn the light out without being convinced they swarmed my bed.
Still not creeped out? If you need more, that article goes into great detail about exactly how a tick goes about sinking those curved little teeth into you and then sucking your blood for a long period of time:
The chelicerae start to flex their tips. At first, they take turns; eventually they move together. With each sweep, the teeth snag on the host’s flesh and bury the chelicerae even deeper into the skin. After 30 of these movements, the entire tips are firmly embedded.
The tick then contracts both of its chelicerae while flexing both tips, like it’s doing a nightmarish version of a breaststroke. The motion drives the rigid, sword-like hypostome into the skin, and the backwards-facing spines keep locked in place. The chelicerae relax and extend, before flexing and retracting again. Each stroke ratchets the hypostome deeper and deeper. After six of them, it’s completely buried and the tick starts to feed.
So, yes, give me bears any day of the week. I really don’t mind.
Just let me avoid the scariest creature in the woods. He’s probably strolling across my body right now. Those eight little legs propelling him along. Diseased saliva dripping from his hooked teeth.
Pardon me, but I need to go take a shower. A really, really hot shower.
Vocabulary Word Of The Week: Chelicerae
Chelicerae refers to an antenna like appendage in arachnids. Scorpions lack a poison gland, but spiders’ chelicerae ends in a sharp point near the venom duct. For ticks, as demonstrated above, the chelicerae is designed for piercing. Ouch.
The word traces back to the Greek -keros meaning horn or antenna.
Makes the little critters seem even more demonic, huh?
Fun Photo: Mountain Views
The summer haze hangs over our mountains this time of year. The early morning clouds will thicken and afternoon showers will come, but enjoying the morning for now.
Interesting Links: Who Reads?
A recent survey found that half of all Americans haven’t read a book in the last year. One in ten haven’t read a book in the last decade. Read all the details here. I’d love to know your thoughts, so feel free to comment below.
Books Read: The Last Flight
I read 100 novels a year and share the best with you.
Desperate to escape an abusive marriage to a powerful man, Claire Cook needs to escape with a new identity to hide from his long reach. A chance encounter in an airport bar provides her the chance. Eva James tells of her own woes and how she needs to start over. The women hatch a plan to switch airplane tickets and identification to throw their pursuers off the trail.
When Claire lands in Oakland, she discovers two things. Eva’s story was clearly a lie. And Eva’s plane—the one Claire was supposed to be on—crashed and killed everyone on board. Since no one knows, Claire assumes Eva’s identity as she determines her next step. That identity, though, brings a different set of pursuers.
Gratuitous Dog Picture: Sleeping Positions
Leave it to Landon to sleep upside down, under my desk, and wrapped around the supports. I can’t even begin to explain how this is comfortable.
Have an excellent Independence Day and a terrific week! Watch out for ticks! See you next Monday.
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