margin-top: 28px; The Unlikely Times: April 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Plagues of spiders, and spiders plagued

Sometimes a headline just stands out from the monotony. Like this one: "Spider plague closes Australian hospital" (LINK, Apr 22, 2008). The ABC version is "Redback plague closes hospital" (LINK, Apr 23, 2008) which has a link to the audio version, beginning with "It sounds like the stuff of a B-grade horror movie ...". My kind of story. "Poisonous spiders and patients ..." are apparently a bad combination.

We usually only see a few spiders in a day, but nature has a way of taking advantage of just the right conditions and producing surprising biomass. There are millions of eggs and seeds of bugs, creatures and plants for every acre of land on earth, waiting for just the right conditions.

Spiders in Australia again: "Warning of deadly spider plague" (LINK,, Jan 20, 2006). Early rains produce a regular annual plague earlier than usual, this time funnel-web spiders.

Every few years, here we go. "SPIDER INVASION" (LINK,, Oct 30, 2002) -- "Queensland is in the grip of the worst spider plague ever - with the hot and dry conditions creating the perfect breeding ground." At least 20 people bitten. Though brief, this article offers some tips on destroying spiders and the ominous conclusion, "If you're persistent the spider will eventually get the message and move on." As opposed to the spiders coming back with their own cans of poison and zapping you while you sleep.

Oddly, here's a lesson in the consumer economics, using an example of battling -- you guessed it -- a plague of red-back spiders in Australia: "$100 is cheaper than $20!" by John Stanley (LINK,

I don't know how many spiders it takes to qualify for a "plague". Plenty of people think one spider is too many, but if we killed all the spiders we'd be swarming with an even bigger plague of smaller pests the spiders help to control.

Being twisted, I wondered if anything plagued spiders. Sure enough, in an interesting long article about social spider colonies ("Spider Solidarity Forever"), I found this: "A mysterious spider plague swept through Panama in 1983, killing entire nests of cooperative spiders." (LINK from Science News - May 8, 1999).

The downside to living in huge colonies is the easy spread of disease and the reduction of genetic diversity. So, if we lived in smaller, more scattered colonies, the spiders would be free to plague across the countryside, and never bother us at all?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jon from Garfield: Surreal Warrior

It seems like it was December when I stumbled across a guy claiming that if you remove all the things Garfield says from the Garfield comic strip, it gets much funnier. Well, it looks like it has evolved a bit since then ... now there's a site where a guy completely removes Garfield the Cat from his own strip. What's left is Jon Arbuckle, a depressed lunatic that can't cope in the real world. It ranges from weird to surreal, from loser to mental patient. Poor guy. I have to agree with Dan Walsh (the Garfield removal expert) about how it unmasks the "quiet desperation of modern life."

Link: Garfield Minus Garfield

It's nice to see that Jim Davis, Garfield's creator, seems amused by the whole thing:

Link: Washington Post (April 6, 2008)

But I have to make an important connection here. It also demonstrates the health effects of having a cat around. Pets are good for the soul, or at least our stress levels, as a growing body of articles show.

Link: Pets & Stress on

Or Google it:
Link: Google!

Even the CDC has a page on the Health Benefits of Pets:

Link: CDC

So, if you're feeling like poor Jon in Garfield minus Garfield, maybe you should add a Garfield to your life!

Dog comes home after 77 mile trek

A dog named Moon has returned home after a 77 mile trek across Nevada mountains. It walked for 7 days and smelled like a skunk but was otherwise okay.

Link: Ely Times (April 21, 2008)

This kind of thing has been reported so many times, it's hard not to find it credible, except for it being such an incredible feat. Most humans couldn't find their way home across 10 miles of wilderness. I've always wondered just what these animals might be attuned to, and whether their routes are straight bee-lines or desperately confused. Even Disney has covered the phenomenon ("Homeward Bound" & its sequels), so it's part of our pop culture. But in reality it seems to be a very rare thing, and heartwarming, so it always makes the good side of the news.

Here's an extreme case, a dog that returned after 6 years:

Link: Animal News Center, Inc, via (2003)

Though after such a long time, it probably had another home in the meantime.

Well, I'll take happy animal news any day. If only they could speak ...

Imaginary cars

Every now and then a story comes up of human behavior previously unheard of. Here's a short hint of a story I found thanks to Dave Barry's blog ... about a guy who was arrested after being seen pumping gas into an imaginary car.

Link: Dave Barry (April 21, 2008) with some funny comments by users

Source: (April 21, 2008)

It reminds me of a current commercial about the guy who can't remember what side of the car the gas tank is on (because it gets such GREAT mileage) (they're such liars!), while the song plays, "Just can't seem to get it right today ... think I'm gonna give up."

In case you're wondering what else on Earth this could possibly relate to ... there was an Animaniacs episode in 1994 called, of all things, "Mime Time #9 - Driving an Imaginary Car."

Link: (Not a ton of info, but there it is.)

And for those of you who wonder what the ultimate imaginary car might look like, here it is:

Link: (May 5, 2006) (Read it & you'll see what I mean.)