It’s a quiet Sunday night. We were watching telly when suddenly he jumped out of his chair, shouting, “snake!!”.
The accused creature was about 20 cm long, very thin, very black, and moving very fast around our front room. Because of its size he thought it’s a baby snake, and the thought of a baby made me think about its mother, tucked away quietly somewhere in the house, or a baby that can grow into an adult, full-size grown up snake. It’s beyond scary!
After a lot of screaming at each other in utter panic (“get that thing away from me!”, “honey, it’s like 5 feet away from you”, “just get rid of it quickly!”, “yeah but how?”, “kill it, kill it!”, “I’m not gonna kill it, I’m gonna shoo it away“, “then do it noowww!!”, “Well get off of that chair and help me, don’t just hide under your blankie“, “but you’re a man!”, “so?“, “you should get killed first”, “oh thank you“), he was brave enough to come for a closer inspection and utter a sigh of relief, “it’s a lizard.”
But it did look like a snake because the way it’s moving in an S-shape just like a snake, and we had no idea whether it’s poisonous or not – as even the most mundane creatures in Australia can be deadly – so we didn’t dare to touch it.
After 20 minutes shooing away the said animal, he’s back in the house, believing that it’s back where it’s belongs, our garden. The house is back at its peaceful and calm state.
Until this morning when I was having my coffee and watching news. That bloody creature was back! Maybe it’s not the same lizard, maybe it’s his brother (oh gosh! How many do we have in the house??), but he wasn’t here and I had to deal with it myself. Being smart, I threw a candle glass to trap it, then slid a magazine under it so the lizard was stuck in between the glass and the magazine, walked to the empty lot next door which was full of builders who are busy developing the site into a house, and threw the lizard towards the workers. They’re big men, see how they deal with that!
I have a legitimate reason why I become jumpy when summer comes. My fond, very first memory of summer in Perth was snakes. Not the nice, warm sunshine and the smell of endless supply of cold white wine. Not the nice, pretty sight of ‘6-pack’ groups of surfers at the beach. Not the nice, delicious smell of barbie. Snakes!
We were just busy moving into our current house last December and a nice lady stopped by to introduce herself as our next door neighbour and also to remind us that her husband just found a dugite in the back garden. “It’s very poisonous,” she said, “You can get killed in two hours, so make sure don’t walk around your garden with no shoes on, and always close the fly screen when you’re out hanging your washing. Oh, and my name is Heidi**. Welcome to the neighbourhood.”
We thanked Heidi and drove back to our hotel to pick up more stuff. And there it was, lying on the road not far from the house, was another snake (we know it’s a different snake because Heidi’s husband didn’t just find the snake, he accidentally killed it too). The snake was dead, run over by a vehicle, but even that, we shouldn’t touch it because its venom still can kill us. That was the first time, exactly 4 weeks after moving from Scotland, that I missed UK terribly. At least the scariest creature I’ve ever met there was Tilly cat when she was in a bad mood.
A few months later, when our relatives were visiting, he found another snake.
This time it made a progress, rather than being at the back garden of Heidi and her husband’s, it’s INSIDE our house. It was dead and dried, but it was found under the couch in the living room! The thought that the snake could sneak in and chose to stay (or to die, whatever) under the couch (which means it could choose to stay under the bed as well!) really sent me to a panic. Since then whenever I hoover and mop the floor I make sure I check underneath the sofa and bed.
I’m not usually scared of snakes, but I don’t want to be friends with venomous snakes. And dugite’s venom is potentially one of the most lethal in the world, causing coagulopathic and procoagulant effects. Nice, hey.
Apart from lizards and snakes, as well as Princess the neighbour’s cat which comes occasionally and treats our couch like her own bed and us like her servants, our regular visitors during summer are none other than – I found an official term after some research on the net – Portuguese millipedes. These creepy crawlies are harmful, but finding them crawling on the floor and walls around the house isn’t fun. When disturbed a millipede may release a pungent and distasteful yellowish secretion which discourages predators, such as birds. The secretion may stain skin or clothes and is extremely irritating if rubbed into the eyes (I should warn him not to touch them with his bare hands but using tissues to pick them up and throw them away back into the garden). However as it is composed of organic chemicals called quinones, it quickly breaks down in water. But rather than being a pest, these millipedes are nothing compares to the sight of a dugite in the house!
Bill Bryson in his famous book Down Under wonders why people want to live in Australia at all. “It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents, and still Australia teems with life – a large proportion of it quite deadly”. In fact, Australia, as he blithely points out, “has more things that will kill you than anywhere else.” Such lethal “attractions” include ten snakes with the deadliest venom in the world (hello, I’ve met one kind already!), poisonous spiders, lethal seashells, toxic plants, hazardous ocean riptides, sharks, and box jellyfish that can effectively end the beach season.
I forgot about spiders until I read Bryson’s book again.
The white-tailed spider is a long thin black spider with a white tail and has a nasty bite that can lead to local swelling and itchiness and very occasionally nausea, vomiting, malaise, or headache. Wikipedia also says that its bite might also cause ulcers and necrosis but not to worry, at least it doesn’t kill us. But the redback spider is the most common poisonous spider in Western Australia. It’s small and black with a distinctive red stripe on it’s body. Its venom is toxic to humans and its bite can cause severe pain. There is an antivenom for redback bites which is commercially available, but, we’ve met a guy who’s got bitten a few years a go, and he’s still not completely recovered and is bound to take some medication for his entire life. I have forgotten the detail, but I am meeting him again this Sunday and will verify his story.
Despite living in the very hostile environment, as Bryson’s concludes, Australians – or those who have been living here long enough – are so laid back and relaxed. I still don’t get it. We have deadly creatures living around us, and yet we just go, ‘yeah, ok, no biggie’. I ask the guy and his wife – who later told us a story about the cat died after being bitten by a snake – how they can let the kids go out and play at all, knowing a spider can bite them, a snake can attack them, a kangaroo can kick them, a jellyfish can sting them, or a shark can eat them, they’d just shrug and say, ‘Why not? We can’t keep them in forever”.
Well, ok then.
So, apart from 40°C scorching hot summer we are expecting every year, we have to bear ourselves with a lot of unwanted house visitors. I will just have to remember Heidi’s friendly advice when I’m in the house: always wear shoes, always close the fly screen, and – she doesn’t know this but it’s exactly what I’m gonna do if I ever see a dugite – call her husband!
Now if you excuse me, I have to shoo away some other creepy crawlies!
** name has been changed.