April 24, 2018
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Snakes in house, bats in belfry

By Kent Ward

Representatives of the animal kingdom have been in the news often of late, and in many cases the stuff the critters have been up to has been far more fascinating than the accomplishments of humans.

Consider: Thousands of snakes take over an Idaho home and drive the occupants half mad in a scenario worthy of exploitation by Maine’s own horror meister, Stephen King. South American beavers devour forests in Argentina and threaten to dam half the continent. Squeaking bats in a Maine school conspire to get the kids a few extra days of summer vacation. A young Emperor penguin makes a wrong turn in Antarctica and winds up alone on a New Zealand beach 2,000 miles from home…

The horror show involving snakes is one to give a person the willies. Shortly after buying their dream home, considered a steal at $180,000, a young Rexburg, Idaho couple discovered it was infested with garter snakes.

According to a report by The Associated Press, soon after moving in the couple learned that the place came with an unlimited supply of reptiles that had crawled seemingly into every crevice. The snakes “slithered behind the walls at night and released foul-smelling musk into the drinking water,” the AP reported. And they were so numerous that the homeowner once killed 42 in a single day.

If the owner rapped against a roof overhang, he could hear dozens of reptiles scatter. When he removed several panels of siding, dozens more popped out. When he bravely made his way through a crawl space he “found snakes everywhere,” he told the AP reporter. The now ex-homeowner claims the experience left the couple suffering from snake-related post-traumatic stress disorder, recurring nightmares and a hefty dose of buyer’s remorse.

After three months, the couple fled from the snake pit — known by locals as simply “the snake house” — and filed for bankruptcy. “We’re not going to pay for a house full of snakes,” the owner declared. The bank subsequently foreclosed on the home and put it up for sale.

A state fish and game commission biologist speculated that the home had been built on top of a winter snake den, or hibernacula, where snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate.

Meanwhile, Argentina was reported suffering a plague of busy beavers chewing their way through forests, damming waterways, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. According to a Washington Post story carried in the Bangor Daily News, Argentine officials introduced 25 pairs of beavers from Canada in 1946 to generate a commercial fur trade. Today, the estimated population of the web-footed herbivore is 200,000.

This virtual army of Mother Nature’s buck-tooth engineers “is chomping, cutting and flooding forests across this frosty archipelago known as Tierra del Fuego, or Land of Fire,” the story reported. “And the beavers are moving north, having swum across the turbulent freezing waters of the Strait of Magellan.”

The fear is that unless Argentina and Chile take drastic counter measures soon, there might be no stopping the ingenious mammals. “We think they could occupy all of Patagonia,” an Argentine park service biologist said.

Far from Patagonia and closer to home, the 200 students who attend the Dedham Elementary School have a bunch of bats to thank for getting them (the kids, not the bats) out of school five days early to begin their annual summer vacation. The discovery of what the school principal called “a pretty big bat colony” in the school’s attic — and the unpleasant odor their droppings created on warm days — prompted cancellation of the final days of school. Management expects the situation to be remedied before the new school year begins in late August.

As for the adventurous penguin strutting along the New Zealand beach in his best tuxedo, a museum curator said the bird appears healthy but needs to find its way back south soon if it is to survive.

As spring has morphed into summer, the snakes, bats, beavers and stray penguin have been joined in the headlines by, among others, a mallard duck nesting inside Bangor’s Home Depot store, a sheep flock on Big Nash Island, a water buffalo herd in Appleton and bedbugs. As newsmakers, they have captured our imagination and we are the richer for it.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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