My Next Writing Class


Since a couple of readers have asked. . . I'll be teaching The Art of Creative Nonfiction online for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program this spring. For more information, you can email me (deadlykingdom@yahoo.com) or phone the Program office at 1 (800) 388-UCLA.

The course is for all kinds of literary nonfiction. . . whatever that slippery term means. It doesn't have to involve gruesome animal-related violence. This is my 15th class for the Program, and I'm a big fan of the online format. If you've been thinking about trying this kind of writing--or if you've already tried it, but could use some structure and fellowship to keep you going--check it out!

Or Maybe Not: More on the Grocery Spider


That Brazilian wandering spider I posted about the other day may actually have been a huntsman spider.

Some huntsman spiders are big enough to make you bleed with their bites, but their venom isn’t dangerous. They also have spines on their legs which can irritate human skin. Recent discoveries in Southeast Asia turned up huntsmen with 12-inch legspans, which puts them among the biggest spiders—or most long-legged, anyway; tarantulas with similar legspans are much thicker and more imposing animals.

The problem here is that spiders are hard to identify. You can be a perfectly competent biologist without knowing how to distinguish your spiders. Worse, a lot of people don’t know how much they don’t know.

It’s odd how eager people are to get scared by creepy critters in imported goods. Urban legends involving venomous snakes in imported blankets go back at least as far as the late 1960s, according to Jan Brunvand’s book The Vanishing Hitchhiker. Some folklorists think this sort of story reflects a hidden xenophobia.

Wandering Spider in Tulsa


Salon reports that a Brazilian wandering spider was found in a grocery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The reporting here is a bit sensationalistic. The wanderer is fairly likely to give a dry bite as a warning before it spends any of its venom on a non-prey animal such as a human.

The wandering spiders are dangerous largely because they shelter in shoes and other niches where people are likely to put their fingers or toes. They're aggressive, too, or at least eager to defend themselves when they suspect you might attack.

New Insights into Anthrax


Anthrax can infect the skin (through wounds), the lungs (through inhalation of spores), and the gut (through the eating of infected animals). Potentially, almost all animals can spread the disease, but it’s particularly associated with hoofed livestock. Its most common victims are people who work on farms or in processing plants. The lung and gut forms of the disease are often fatal.

Anthrax is believed to have killed 60 thousand people in Europe in the early 1600s. It is also, because of its capacity to spread in powedered form, a viable weapon for bioterrorists. Five people died of anthrax in the terror attacks of 2001. In 2005, an outbreak among wildlife and cattle in Zimbabwe claimed at least three human lives. At about the same time, several people died of it in Kenya.

Today researchers are reporting new insights about the history of this ancient disease.

Travis's Family Tree


You’ve read about Travis the chimpanzee, who recently mutilated a woman in Connecticut. Here’s a pair of stories about his mother, who was shot to death in 2001 when she attacked a pet dog and threatened his owner.

Meanwhile, the paramedics who went to the rescue of Travis’s victim have spoken about her injuries.

Tiger Attack

It's hard to grasp the amazing athletic prowess of a big cat. Take a look at this video of a tiger counter-attacking some park rangers trying to dart it. Notice how it seems to appear from nowhere--and how high it leaps.

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