Kinda gross, kinda cool

At the end of the day during aftercare, someone came running, shouting my name with such urgency that I was sure a child must be hurt.  Instead, it was “Snake!  Eating something!” I followed him to the pine woods where a ring of kids had formed.  In the middle, writhing slowly among the leaf litter, a garter snake gripped the posterior end of a large toad. The snake’s mouth was already distended, as if it had been working on consuming this meal for some time, yet the toad moved only slightly, holding three of its legs (the fourth wasn’t visible) firmly planted as it faced forward with an incongruously placid expression.  There was blood, and what might have been intestines leaking from a wound in the toad’s belly.

I braced myself for the kids’ reactions; this is about as grisly as it gets, and there was something so pathetic in the toad’s utter calm, its bright eyes, its living consumption. But there were no squeals or gasps of horror, no begging to help the toad or to force the snake to let go.  There were questigartersnaketoad2ons: “Is it using venom to kill it?” “How long do you think it will take to swallow it?” “Is that the same toad that we found last week?” “Could it hurt us?” I wondered at the kids’ apparent acceptance of this process.  Was it because they have helped me feed mice (frozen and thawed) to classroom snakes, and we casually talk about which end gets eaten first, and how fast they get to “the spaghetti part,” where just the tail is sticking out of the snake’s mouth? This protracted live-toad-eating seemed very different to me somehow.  After we had watched for a few minutes, it was time to leave for carpool.  I followed them out of the woods and saw several relating the snake-toad tale to the other teachers. “Oh no, how terrible!” one exclaimed, to which a child responded, “Well, snake’s gotta eat.”  And another added, “Yeah, it’s kinda gross – but also kinda cool.  Mostly cool – at  least for the snake.”


camolooper-2Today was all about the little things, most of which seem determined not to be seen.  Squatting and peering under leaves, following a tiny moth as it fluttered through the grass, searching for the host of a web spun between pine needles, I paused to consider the brown, out-of-place petals protruding from a flower corolla.  Then I realized that they were moving of their own accord. This recalled another such instance on a hike, when a similar assortment of petals made its way across a daisy, and turned out to be the caterpillar of an emerald moth, or a camouflage looper. This current ragamuffin, which had attached bits of petal to itself until completely covered, was so minute that I couldn’t tell how best to photograph it, or where a head or legs might even be.  Its movements were erratic; it appeared to lift its head every so often and then lower it to resume feeding, blending in with the other petals.

Rounding the corner into the garden, I looked hard at the zinnias and cosmos, expecting a spider at least, but found nothing.  The joe-pye weed had nearly all gone to seed, but the last bit of pink betrayed an ominous shape: a jagged ambush bug. It straddled a blossom like an apocalyptic insect horseman, its round eyes bulging and its fearsome hooked forelegs ready to pounce. Only a few millimeters long, it tackles prey many times its size.

I wonder if an ambush bug would be fooled by a camouflage looper, or if the looper would notice the ambush bug.