Monday, February 14, 2011

What is a Flying Fox, Really?

Everyone knows Australia has odd animals. Torn from Gondwanaland 50 million years ago, it developed the kangaroo, wallaby, wombat, echidna, emu, and other curiosities. But few people know how dangerous these creatures can be. Australia has the most species of poisonous serpents (32 varieties of venomous sea snake alone), including the world’s deadliest, the taipan, whose bite is 50 times worse than a cobra. Salt water crocodiles, exceeding 20’ in length, stalk small motorboats. Poisonous cone shells await the beach collector, deadly box jellyfish speckle the surf, blue-ringed octopus haunt the reefs, and in the deep water prowl great white sharks. While sharks and snakes generally avoid suburbia, this cannot be said of red-backed spiders, whose tiny bites are also lethal.

Rainbow Lorikeet
But there are also endearing animals down under. Real Tasmanian devils, sadly, don’t whirl like my memories from Bugs Bunny; they amble like playful puppies with cute rat faces. Mostly black and adorned with a white striped midriff, their large ears are so thin that backlight burnishes them blood red. When I asked a zookeeper about adopting the adorable creature as a pet, he told me that its eerie nighttime scream would conjure terrifying images and likely trouble my neighbors. The kookaburra’s cry is also unexpected; how can a mere kingfisher sound like a troupe of gamboling monkeys? Rainbow lorikeets, seemingly as common as robins, have no unearthly cry, but they dazzle one’s eyes.  The shy, nocturnal platypus is surprisingly cute, but top honors go to koalas. They don’t do much besides savor eucalyptus and snooze, but boy they beg for hugs.

Let me end by mentioning the flying fox, a creature owning an exotic name. But what is a flying fox, really? I imagined something like a flying squirrel, a bit bigger, and with a cute whiskered nose. I was wrong. The flying fox is a gigantic bat, whose wingspan can exceed six feet! At sunset, thousands launch over the Brisbane river, and the sky fills with their spooky silhouette. Last night dozens soared close above our heads, crashing into nearby trees and squabbling over fruit and nectar.

1 comment:

  1. i'm pretty certain i looked like that emu when i was born. not by accident my last name is thrush, methinks! these are fricken' awesome pictures, dan. ~steveT