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Today’s a post concerns Kahausibware, a dark ambiguous serpent-deity whose story is part of the mythology of Makira (which was known as San Cristóbal during the colonial era) an island in Solomon chain. Kahausibware was a Hi’ona—a powerful supernatural being who created the world. Like the Chinese serpent goddess Nüwa, Kahausibware was a demiurge—a primeval creator deity who gave life to humanity, however, Kahausibware was not as benevolent & understanding as gentle Nüwa.
According to myth, Kahausibware created pigs, cocoa-nut trees, and fruit trees. Having created food, she then created animals and humans to use it. Since the world was new, death was unknown. Unfortunately Kahausibware was not patient with her creations and she had no tolerance for annoyances or distractions. One day, a woman (who was an offspring of Kahausibware) requested that the serpent-deity babysit while she (the woman) went to harvest fruit. The human child would not stop screaming and wailing, so Kahausibware wrapped around the infant and suffocated him—thus bringing death into the world. At this fateful moment the woman returned with her fruit. Seeing her child dead, she flew into a rage and began to hack Kahausibware into pieces with an axe.
The snake-being was divine, so her dismembered pieces kept fusing back together, but the pain of the assault was overwhelming. The serpent escaped into the ocean and swam away forever from the island of Makira, but, as she left she withdrew her blessings of abundance and ease. Since that time, life in the Solomon Islands has become difficult. Famines and crop failures became facts of life and death spread everywhere. The islanders still venerate snakes, the mortal embodiment of Kahausibware—but where the amoral creator has gone is a mystery.
The world’s largest hornet is the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia). An individual specimen can measure up to 5 cm (2 inches) long and has a wingspan of 7.6 cm (3 inches). Giant hornets have blunt wide heads which look different from those of other wasps, hornets, and bees and they are colored yellow orange and brown.
The Asian giant hornet ranges from Siberia down across the Chinese coast into Indochina and lives as far west as India, however the hornet is most common in the rural parts of Japan where it is known as the giant sparrow bee. The sting of the Asian giant hornet is as oversized as the great insect is. Within the hornet’s venom is an enzyme, mastoparan, which is capable of dissolving human tissue. Masato Ono, an entomologist unlucky enough to be stung by the creature described the sensation a “a hot nail through my leg.” Although the sting of a normal honey bee can kill a person who is allergic to bees, the sting of an Asian giant hornet can kill a person who has no allergies–and about 70 unfortunate souls are killed by the hornets every year.
Armed with their size and their fearsome sting, Asian giant hornets are hunters of other large predatory insects like mantises and smaller (i.e. all other) hornets. The giant hornets do not digest their prey but masticate it into a sticky paste to feed to their own offspring. A particular favorite prey is honey bee larvae, and since European honey bees have no defense against the giant wasps, all efforts by Japanese beekeepers to introduce European bees have met with failure. Japanese honey bees however have evolved a mechanism (strategy?) to cope with hornet incursion. When a hive of Japanese honey bees detects the pheromones emitted by hunting hornets, a crowd of several hundred bees will form a gauntlet (carefully leaving a space for the hornet to enter). Once the hornet walks into the trap the bees rush on top of it and grasp it firmly. They then begin to vibrate their flight muscles which raises the temperature and produces carbon dioxide. Since giant hornets cannot survive the CO2 levels or high temperatures that honey bees can, the hornets put up a titanic struggle to overcome the mass of bees, killing many in the process. However honey bees have a fanaticism which would do credit to the most ardent practitioner of Bushido, and they usually kill the invaders.
Ah summer…the perfect time for a delicious guacamole quesadilla or a tasty avocado salad. But have you ever looked inside an avocado? Beneath the delicious green flesh is an immense hard seed as big as a golf ball. Trees compete by spreading seeds efficiently. The Norway maple in my back yard produces thousands of helicopter seeds which fly off in every direction on their own rotors. The black cherry entices countless birds to eat its fruit, pit and all, and thereby spread its seeds afar on feathered wings. What purpose does the avocado’s giant seed serve?
Well, avocado trees as a species are ancient. They evolved together with giant mammals like glyptodons, gomphotheres, and giant sloths. These immense herbivores could eat avocados whole and not even notice the seeds. The animals would forage away from the original tree and, in the course of time, leave the seed in a totally different location along with a pile of fertilizer. Osage oranges are similarly symbiotic with the giant extinct grazers. In the absence of these creatures, wild avocados and Osage oranges are slowly losing ground to other trees–even if human kind has planted the avocado for food and the Osage orange for its springy wood (which is perfect for archery).
So what happened to all these wonderful beasties? Why is a nature documentary shot on the grasslands of Africa today so much more satisfying then one from the great Texas Llano? Alas, they went extinct 12000 to 14000 years ago—just about the same time humankind showed up. It turns out the first humans to get to the New World loved killing charismatic megafauna even more than Buffalo Bill did.