Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Alex Wild at Myrmecos has an impressive list of things that have stung him. Literally stung, that is. I don't see any hidden bank charges or interest rate increases on the inventory. He's been clobbered by ants, bees, wasps, moths and plants. The life of a myrmecologist clearly has its dangers.

Malacologists have an easier time of it. At least, this malacologist does. For a start, land snails don't gather together in highly-organised colonies and swarm over intruders. Or maybe they do but it takes so long to get to the intruder that no one has noticed this behaviour. I dunno.

(I once let a freshwater snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, feed on my finger tip to see what the rasping radula felt like. I can report that it's similar to a cat's tongue at first. No problem while the dead skin is still in place. But once that's scraped off and the teeth hit living pay dirt beneath, it's not so much fun. And by that, I mean it's like a burn. But I digress.)

Because I haven't voluntarily thrown myself into the paths of swarming ants (or snails), my catalogue of stings is rather meagre. Oh, I've had plenty of encounters with honey bees and European wasp and stinging nettles, but not much that's worth recording. So let me engage in a diversionary tactic and tell you about a couple of invertebrate – me interactions rather than listing them. I'd be grateful if you could read the stories to yourself in a David Attenborough-type voice. It will help. Trust me.

  • Borneo. My colleagues scrabbled their way up a near-vertical slope in the rainforest to look for snails, while I stayed behind to check out the nice flat bit. I forgot that I wasn't on familiar territory. (I don't know how you can forget that. Perhaps I'd gone troppo.) So when I broke open a slab of rotten wood, I wasn't expecting to get stung. I didn't see the culprit. It could have been anything, but was most likely an ant. The pain persisted for an hour or so, relieved only when I raised my arm above my head in much the same pose as those statues of Lenin hailing a taxi. The pain had faded by the time my colleagues returned with their collection of snails. I was going to play up the sting but it occurred to me that I had been Very Silly in breaking open the log with bare hands so I mentioned it in passing, just in case I had a delayed reaction. Yes, it's not the most exciting story but it was in a wild part of the world, so that must count for something.
  • The next sting occurred in a not so wild part of the world — a bathroom in holiday accommodation on the Great Ocean Road, southern Victoria. And I saw the culprit this time: a scorpion that had been sitting happily among the folds of the bath towel. The poor little arachnid hadn't taken kindly to being used to dry off a human, so it defended itself by stinging me on the shoulder. Perfectly reasonable response. I couldn't get annoyed at it. The verdict: mild but persistent local reaction, some nausea and pain similar to a bee sting. And a good dollop of sympathy because, this time, it wasn't my fault

So there you have it. That's my big two. Now, if we were talking bites or snail slime-induced falling injuries, we'd have a book in the making. But I'm not prepared to mess too much with a Myrmecos meme. Stings it remains.

Note: Response to animal and plant stings is an area where Your Mileage May Vary. Anyone who has experienced a severe reaction or has seen it happen to someone else will know how serious it can be.

Be careful.

I always usually remember to put on gloves when I'm working in the garden. And if I'm out collecting, I frock up in full field gear. Wimp? Maybe. I don't really think of it as a test of character.


mick said...

A wimp? I don't think so - BUT - how are you going to manage full protective gear in the tropics? Some years ago I had a small commercial apiary and the first year I put on all the protective gear and couldn't cope with the heat. The next season I decided it was easier to try what the tough old timers did - shorts and shirt - build up some immunity and just ignore the stings! It worked!!

Snail said...

In the middle of the wet season, I don't think it matters what you wear! At some point, it can't get any worse.

The one thing that gives me shivers in FNQ is the stinging tree. Luckily, there aren't any on this property, although I'm going to have to keep an eye on the forest edges for seedlings.

I'm also not fond of leeches. If one manages to latch on, then --- fair's fair --- I'll leave it until it finishes. But if I spot it while it's still crawling, then it had better prepare to be flicked.

(I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense.)