The water moccasin (a.k.a. cottonmouth; Agkistrodon piscivorus) is a venomous snake of the American South. The adults come in the dark colors of moss and mud and may reach six feet. They live in water and are so adapted to the aquatic lifestyle that hatchling moccasins use their tails as fishing lures. Moccasins are as viable in salt water as in fresh, and an agricultural drainage ditch will serve almost as well as a lake or river. They bask on floating logs and brush, on the bank, and on rocky ledges uphill from the water. If a water hole dries up, they will migrate to find another. For aquatic animals, they're tolerant of dry weather. When a moccasin isn't hunting on land or in water or basking in the sun, it's often lying quietly in the shade.

People most often get bitten when they step on a moccasin. Occasionally a swimmer gets bitten. Moccasins may frighten attackers (and even people who accidentally come close to them) by yawning wide to show the inside of their pinkish-white mouths. They may, on the other hand, simply bite—in the air or under water. One victim who was bitten near the spine while swimming spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Researchers say half of all moccasin bites result in fingers or toes crippled by gangrene. But deaths are rare.

Big Cats in Shrinking Jungles

Here’s a news report on recent tiger and leopard attacks in India. Note the reference to deforestation as a contributor to animal attacks. This link between environmental damage and direct human-animal conflict has come up often, with everything from chimps to sloth bears. Some scientists have even suggested great white sharks are attacking people more often because we’ve depleted the fish they might otherwise prey on. The link is hard to prove, and I think some of the claims will need a lot more evidence before we take them seriously. But when it comes to deforestation, the links are easy: people have to venture into the forest to cut the trees, and forest animals have smaller areas in which to hide.

The Cricket-Beast Revealed

One of the most frequently asked questions about The Red Hourglass concerns the identity of the “cricket beast.” This mysterious critter, which I found crawling across my driveway after a rain, surprised me with its size, and then with its predatory prowess: it devoured a sizeable mantis, face first, leaving nothing but its wings.

The “cricket beast” was a Mormon cricket. It’s a kind of katydid, and it’s common in the Southwest, though I had seen only a few in Oklahoma—and none so huge. Mormon crickets usually eat plants. Their populations explode into plagues, much like flightless swarms of grasshoppers, and when that happens they devour carrion, other insects, and each other. According to Klauber’s classic work on rattlesnakes, masses of Mormon crickets have been observed eating these reptiles. It’s not clear whether the crickets actually killed the rattlers or simply scavenged them.

According to a Wikipedia entry, swarming Mormon crickets can be a traffic hazard, both by scaring the driver and by coating the road with their slick guts.

Vintage Widow Photo

Here's a shot of a captive Southern black widow (Latrodectus mactans) taking a fly. In the lower left you can see the widow's exoskeleton from a recent molt.

A Dramatic Fox Attack

An Arizona woman was attacked by a fox. Knowing she’d want the fox tested for rabies, she ran a mile with it clamped onto her arm, then tossed it into the trunk of her car and drove to the hospital. The fox also bit an animal control officer.

This has been a busy year for fox attacks, but I haven’t heard one quite like this before. Foxes almost never attack people except when rabid. Animals can react to rabies in different ways, but rabid canids (dog-like animals) generally go through a violent phase. Wolves and large dogs can be incredibly dangerous when rabid, attacking dozens of people before the disease disables and kills them.

The photo shows the rabies virus as seen with a microscope.

(Thanks to Carole for the news tip.)

Blair's Widow

In 1933, the intrepid Dr. Allan Blair became one of the first to experiment with the bite of the black widow spider. His test subject was himself. His scientific triumph nearly killed him. Here, courtesy of Dr. Blair's daughter Pat Krause, is a photo of the very spider that bit him.

I wrote about Blair and his experiment in The Red Hourglass. Here's an excerpt.

Herodotus on the Nile Crocodile

Here's a selection from Herodotus, the earliest Western historian. His biology is a bit shaky, but his observations of the interactions between human and crocodile are extraordinary:

During the four winter months this creature eats nothing. It has four feet and can live on land or in water. The female lays and hatches her eggs on the land, where she spends most of the day, but all night she stays in the river, for the water is warmer than the cloudless night air and the dew. Of all the known animals, the crocodile grows to the greatest bulk from the smallest beginning. Its eggs are not much greater than those of a goose, and the hatchling matches the egg. But it often grows to eight meters or more. It has eyes like a pig’s and teeth like tusks, sized to fit its massive frame. Uniquely among animals, it bears no tongue and does not move its lower jaw. Instead, it bites by shutting the upper jaw only. It has strong claws and a scaly hide so thick its back cannot be pierced. In the water it is blind, but in the air sharp-sighted.

Since it dwells in water, leeches infest its mouth. All other birds and beasts flee from it except the trochilus bird, with whom it keeps peace for its own advantage. When it comes onto land and opens its mouth to the West Wind, the trochilus enters its mouth and devours the leeches. The crocodile is pleased with this benefit and does the bird no harm.

Some Egyptians hold the crocodile sacred, while others regard it as an enemy. The people of Thebes and of Lake Moiris especially venerate it. In each of these places, the people tame a single sacred crocodile. They dress its ears and forelimbs with glass and gold. They feed it bread and human sacrifices. The delicate care they show it does not cease with death, for then they embalm it and bury it in a sanctified tomb. But the people of Elephantine do not hold the crocodile sacred, and in fact they eat its flesh.

Egyptians call these beasts champsai. It was the Ionians who named them crocodile because of their resemblance to certain lizards of that name which inhabit the stone walls of Ionia.

The Egyptians have many ways of catching crocodiles. I will describe only the one most worth telling: A hunter baits his hook with the chine of a pig and lets the current carry it to the middle of the river. The hunter then stands on the bank and beats a piglet. Its cries draw the crocodile, which finds the chine and swallows it. The hunter and his friends pull the crocodile ashore, then plaster its eyes with mud. Once blinded, the crocodile is easily killed. Otherwise, he gives the hunters great trouble.

When a person, either Egyptian or stranger, is killed by a crocodile or by the river itself, the people of any city where he is cast up must embalm him and lay him out fairly and bury him in a sacred place. His friends and family may not touch him. The priests of the Nile handle the corpse and bury it as that of one who was something more than man.

[Comments: The trochilus is the bird now known as the Egyptian plover (Pluvianus aegyptius). Some ornithologists believe it really does have a symbiotic relationship with the crocodile, as described here.

Modern Nile crocodiles don’t get quite as big as Herodotus claims, though they may exceed 20 feet. A crocodile of that size is arguably the most formidable predator on land.]

Herodotus on Cats

It’s instructive to read old accounts of animals from the days before science. Often, these old stories are mere myth. Sometimes they contain truths, but viewed through the lens of an older culture’s beliefs. I’ve been reading the Histories of Herodotus, the earliest Western historian, and I find several examples of this latter kind of story. Herodotus made an effort to get his facts right, and while he didn’t always succeed, his reports make fascinating reading. Here's my first installment of his animal stuff, together with a few comments:

In Egypt domestic animals are abundant, and would be moreso if not for the fate that befalls the cats. Because the queens with kittens shun toms, the toms in their sexual desire resort to this stratagem: They carry off and kill the kittens, though they do not eat them afterwards. The childless queens then come again to the toms.

At the sight of fire the cats seem possessed by strange gods, for they plunge into the fire, leaping over or slipping by anyone who tries to stop them. When this happens, the Egyptians mourn deeply. And when a pet cat dies, all the people in the house shave their brows.

Comments: Herodotus is right about the propensity of tomcats to kill kittens, though toms in fact do eat the kittens if they are left uninterrupted. My uncle told me he had sometimes seen kittens eaten entirely except for the head. The motive for killing the young seems to be essentially what Herodotus says, though some authorities say the toms spare their own offspring and kill only the kittens of rivals. Some reports describe the attacks on kittens as part of a sexual frenzy.

Crocodile Attack in Australia

A man has apparently been taken by a saltwater crocodile on Australia’s Endeavor River. Read the story here.

Saltwater crocodiles are among the premier predators of people. They take no special interest in us; rather, they're generalists who will take any prey of suitable size. A croc over ten feet long is considered large enough to prey on people. In the case of salties, it's generally the males who hurt people because they more often reach large sizes. (The largest ones go about 23 feet. At that length, they weigh more than a ton.)

(Thanks to Jim Twiggs for the tip.)

Deadly Kingdom, Chapter 12: The Crocodilians

Dana on Rattlesnakes

[This is an excerpt from Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 book Two Years Before the Mast. In this passage, Dana tells of his time in the wilds of California.]

There was another animal that I was not so much disposed to find amusement from, and that was the rattlesnake. These are very abundant here, especially during the spring of the year. The latter part of the time that I was on shore, I did not meet with so many, but for the first two months we seldom went into "the bush" without one of our number starting some of them.

The first that I ever saw, I remember perfectly well. I had left my companions, and was beginning to clear away a fine clump of trees, when just in the midst of the thicket, not more than eight yards from me, one of these fellows set up his hiss. It is a sharp, continuous sound, and resembles very much the letting off of the steam from the small pipe of a steamboat, except that it is on a smaller scale. I knew, by the sound of an axe, that one of my companions was near, and called out to him, to let him know what I had fallen upon. He took it very lightly, and as he seemed inclined to laugh at me for being afraid, I determined to keep my place. I knew that so long as I could hear the rattle, I was safe, for these snakes never make a noise when they are in motion. Accordingly, I kept at my work, and the noise which I made with cutting and breaking the trees kept him in alarm; so that I had the rattle to show me his whereabouts.

Once or twice the noise stopped for a short time, which gave me a little uneasiness, and retreating a few steps, I threw something into the bush, at which he would set his rattle agoing; and finding that he had not moved from his first place, I was easy again. In this way I continued at my work until I had cut a full load, never suffering him to be quiet for a moment. Having cut my load, I strapped it together, and got everything ready for starting. I felt that I could now call the others without the imputation of being afraid; and went in search of them.

In a few minutes we were all collected, and began an attack upon the bush. The big Frenchman, who was the one that I had called to at first, I found as little inclined to approach the snake as I had been. The dogs, too, seemed afraid of the rattle, and kept up a barking at a safe distance; but the Kanakas showed no fear, and getting long sticks, went into the bush, and keeping a bright look-out, stood within a few feet of him. One or two blows struck near him, and a few stones thrown, started him, and we lost his track, and had the pleasant consciousness that he might be directly under our feet. By throwing stones and chips in different directions, we made him spring his rattle again, and began another attack. This time we drove him into the clear ground, and saw him gliding off, with head and tail erect, when a stone, well aimed, knocked him over the bank, down a declivity of fifteen or twenty feet, and stretched him at his length. Having made sure of him, by a few more stones, we went down, and one of the Kanakas cut off his rattle. These rattles vary in number it is said, according to the age of the snake; though the Indians think they indicate the number of creatures they have killed. We always preserved them as trophies, and at the end of the summer had quite a number. None of our people were ever bitten by them, but one of our dogs died of a bite, and another was supposed to have been bitten, but recovered. We had no remedy for the bite, though it was said that the Indians of the country had, and the Kanakas professed to have an herb which would cure it, but it was fortunately never brought to the test.

A Man-Eater in a Railway Carriage

[Here's another excerpt from JH Patterson's The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. It's not part of the story of the two young male lions that killed more than 100 people, but a separate incident.]


Towards the end of my stay in British East Africa, I dined one evening with Mr. Ryall, the Superintendent of the Police, in his inspection carriage on the railway. Poor Ryall! I little thought then what a terrible fate was to overtake him only a few months later in that very carriage in which we dined.

A man-eating lion had taken up his quarters at a little roadside station called Kimaa, and had developed an extraordinary taste for the members of the railway staff. He was a most daring brute, quite indifferent as to whether he carried off the station-master, the signalman, or the pointsman; and one night, in his efforts to obtain a meal, he actually climbed up on to the roof of the station buildings and tried to tear off the corrugated-iron sheets. At this the terrified baboo in charge of the telegraph instrument below sent the following laconic message to the Traffic Manager: "Lion fighting with station. Send urgent succour." Fortunately he was not victorious in his "fight with the station"; but he tried so hard to get in that he cut his feet badly on the iron sheeting, leaving large blood-stains on the roof. Another night, however, he succeeded in carrying off the native driver of the pumping-engine, and soon afterwards added several other victims to his list. On one occasion an engine-driver arranged to sit up all night in a large iron water-tank in the hope of getting a shot at him, and had a loop-hole cut in the side of the tank from which to fire. But as so often happens, the hunter became the hunted; the lion turned up in the middle of the night, overthrew the tank and actually tried to drag the driver out through the narrow circular hole in the top through which he had squeezed in. Fortunately the tank was just too deep for the brute to be able to reach the man at the bottom; but the latter was naturally half paralysed with fear and had to crouch so low down as to be unable to take anything like proper aim. He fired, however, and succeeded in frightening the lion away for the time being.

It was in a vain attempt to destroy this pest that poor Ryall met his tragic and untimely end. On June 6, 1900, he was travelling up in his inspection carriage from Makindu to Nairobi, accompanied by two friends, Mr. Huebner and Mr. Parenti. When they reached Kimaa, which is about two hundred and fifty miles from Mombasa, they were told that the man-eater had been seen close to the station only a short time before their train arrived, so they at once made up their minds to remain there for the night and endeavour to shoot him. Ryall's carriage was accordingly detached from the train and shunted into a siding close to the station, where, owing to the unfinished state of the line, it did not stand perfectly level, but had a pronounced list to one side. In the afternoon the three friends went out to look for the lion, but, finding no traces of him whatever, they returned to the carriage for dinner. Afterwards they all sat up on guard for some time; but the only noticeable thing they saw was what they took to be two very bright and steady glow-worms. After-events proved that these could have been nothing else than the eyes of the man-eater steadily watching them all the time and studying their every movement. The hour now growing late, and there being apparently no sign of the lion, Ryall persuaded his two friends to lie down, while he kept the first watch. Huebner occupied the high berth over the table on the one side of the carriage, the only other berth being on the opposite side of the compartment and lower down. This Ryall offered to Parenti, who declined it, saying that he would be quite comfortable on the floor and he accordingly lay down to sleep, with his feet towards the sliding door which gave admission the carriage.

It is supposed that Ryall, after watching for some considerable time, must have come to the conclusion that the lion was not going to make its appearance that night, for he lay down on the lower berth and dozed off. No sooner had he done so, doubtless, than the cunning man-eater began cautiously to stalk the three sleepers. In order to reach the little platform at the end of the carriage, he had to mount two very high steps from the railway line, but these he managed to negotiate successfully and in silence. The door from this platform into the carriage was a sliding one on wheels, which ran very easily on a brass runner; and as it was probably not quite shut, or at any rate not secured in any way, it was an easy matter for the lion to thrust in a paw and shove it open. But owing to the tilt of the carriage and to his great extra weight on the one side, the door slid to and snapped into the lock the moment he got his body right in, thus leaving him shut up with the three sleeping me in the compartment.

He sprang at once at Ryall, but in order to reach him had actually to plant his feet on Parenti, who, it will be remembered, was sleeping on the floor. At this moment Huebner was suddenly awakened by a loud cry, and on looking down from his berth was horrified to see an enormous lion standing with his hind feet on Parenti's body, while his forepaws rested on poor Ryall. Small wonder that he was panic-stricken at the sight. There was only one possible way of escape, and that was through the second sliding door communicating with the servants' quarters, which was opposite to that by which the lion had entered. But in order to reach this door Huebner had literally to jump on to the man-eater's back, for its great bulk filled up all the space beneath his berth. It sounds scarcely credible, but it appears that in the excitement and horror of the moment he actually did this, and fortunately the lion was too busily engaged with his victim to pay any attention to him. So he managed to reach the door in safety; but there, to his dismay, he found that it was held fast on the other side by the terrified coolies, who had been aroused by the disturbance caused by the lion's entrance. In utter desperation he made frantic efforts to open it, and exerting all his strength at last managed to pull it back sufficiently far to allow him to squeeze through, when the trembling coolies instantly tied it up again with their turbans. A moment afterwards a great crash was heard, and the whole carriage lurched violently to one side; the lion had broken through one of the windows, carrying off poor Ryall with him. Being now released, Parenti lost no time in jumping through the window on the opposite side of the carriage, and fled for refuge to one of the station buildings; his escape was little short of miraculous, as the lion had been actually standing on him as he lay on the floor. The carriage itself was badly shattered, and the wood-work of the window had been broken to pieces by the passage of the lion as he sprang through with his victim in his mouth.

All that can be hoped is that poor Ryall's death was instantaneous. His remains were found next morning about a quarter of a mile away in the bush, and were taken to Nairobi for burial. I am glad to be able to add that very shortly afterwards the terrible brute who was responsible for this awful tragedy was caught in an ingenious trap constructed by one of the railway staff. He was kept on view for several days, and then shot.

I discussed The Man-Eaters of Tsavo in The Book of Deadly Animals.

Great White Shark in Action

Here’s a fascinating series of photos showing a great white shark going after a seal.

Cecil gives us the low-down on the shark's vaunted sense of smell at Straight Dope.

Deadly Kingdom, Chapter 7: The Cartilaginous Fishes

Leopard Attacks

In the Uttar Pradesh region of India, leopards and human continue to clash; two people have died recently, and several others have been seriously hurt. There are also unconfirmed reports of recent leopard attacks elsewhere in India.

The people of India have dealt with leopards for centuries. This photo is from a rescue operation in Pune this past January. Forestry officials tried to remove a leopard from a populated area. The result: five people mauled, one leopard dead. In May, villagers in Uttar Pradesh burned a leopard alive after it hurt a number of people.

Here’s an odd report of a wild tiger injuring several people. . . in South Africa. This would seem to be a translation error; tigers are not native to Africa, though both lions and leopards occur in patches there.

Deadly Kingdom, Chapter 19: The Cats

Hercules the Gorilla Dies

In pop culture, the gorilla’s dangerous and the chimpanzee’s cute. The gorilla is King Kong; the chimp is Lancelot Link or Cheetah. In reality, the gorilla is dangerous only when provoked—when shot at, for example, or when held captive. A famous example of the latter situation happened in 1998, when a gorilla named Hercules mauled a worker at the Dallas Zoo. Considering the power of a big gorilla, even events like that, which left everyone alive, are mild. The chimpanzee, on the other hand, can be genuinely dangerous. In the wild, chimps occasionally prey on human children. They don’t handle captivity well except when they are young. As they age, they can become extremely aggressive toward people. There are various cases of captive chimps biting and tearing off the fingers and facial features of humans; worse damage than that happens occasionally—castration, lost limbs.

Hercules has died at the Dallas Zoo. He suffered a heart attack after surgery to relieve the paralyzing effects of arthritis in his back.

In Oregon, a chimpanzee escaped from its cage and bit an intern at a wildlife sanctuary. The woman’s injuries were minor.

Food Chain: Encounters Between Mates, Predators and Prey

"Everything feeds on everything else, but we knew that anyway.... The difference lies in the vivid beauty of these weird, compelling photographs. The sharp, luscious colors erupt onto a stark white background."--The Independent on Sunday, London

I contributed an essay to accompany the beautiful and disturbing photos of Catherine Chalmers.

"A vision of the natural world we've never seen before."--Michael Pollan

Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals

Publisher's hype:

In 2004, a buzzard attacked 22 people engaged in a bicycle race in Devon, England, damaging either the helmet or the person in all cases… 
In China, the bile of a bear is believed to have medicinal properties, and is removed by several methods including catheters. It is perhaps unsurprising that bears in this situation become irritable…
The black mamba is sometimes claimed to be the most dangerous snake in the world, based on its speed, aggression and disconcerting habit of turning up in toilets…
In this copiously illustrated, often darkly funny compendium of dangerous animals, one of our finest contemporary writers on the subject offers a comprehensive guide to virtually every animal that might pose harm to humans, from the aardwolf to the zebra shark.
In an engaging, idiosyncratic voice all his own, Gordon Grice presents findings that are by turns surprising, humorous and horrifying…How does a tiny box jellyfish, with no brain and little control over where it goes in the water, manage to kill a full-grown man? What harm have hippos been known to inflict on humans, and why?
At once hair-raising and mordantly funny, this unique work is destined to be a classic – appealing equally to intrepid explorers of nature and armchair scientists reading from the confines of a carefully locked home.

Contents of Deadly Kingdom:

The Carnivorids
  1. Wolves, Dogs, and Their Relatives
  2. The Bears
  3. The Cats
  4. The Hyenas
  5. Other Carnivorids
Aquatic Dangers
  1. Sharks and Their Relatives
  2. The Bony Fish
  3. The Whales
  4. An Assortment of Aquatic Dangers
The Reptiles and Birds
  1. The Snakes
  2. The Crocodilians
  3. The Lizards
  4. The Birds
The Arthropods and Worms
  1. Arachnids and Myriapods
  2. The Insects
  3. The Worms
Other Mammals
  1. The Hoofed Mammals
  2. The Elephants
  3. The Rodents
  4. The Bats
  5. A Miscellany of Minor Mammal Dangers
  6. The Primates

Bear attacks in the news

In Cambodia, two men were mauled by a bear of uncertain species. The Asiatic black bear and the sun bear both occur in the area. From the sketchy details in the article, this attack would appear to fit the MO of the latter species. It does not prey on people, but will claw them in a quick flurry when it feels threatened.

In Romania, a brown bear killed a 20-year-old man. Conflicts between people and brown bears are an ongoing problem in that country. These European brown bears are of the same species as the grizzlies and other browns of North America. They only rarely prey on people, but are touchy in defense and occasionally kill people in both hemispheres.

In North America, black bears have been in the news. Near Vancouver, BC, a black bear mauled a woman in her driveway. As she fought the bear, Neighbors and passing motorists came to her rescue, pelting the animal with rocks and threatening it with a broom. The bear finally broke off the attack when a motorist rammed it with his SUV. It retreated behind a house, where police shot it dead. The woman suffered significant tissue loss from one arm, four broken ribs, and serious lacerations to her head that required 20 staples. She also had lesser wounds all over her body. This appears to have been an attempt at predation. Here are articles from The Canadian Press, CTV, and the Globe and Mail. News photos show the bear as a rather unimpressive cinnamon-colored specimen; that color is not unusual among “black” bears.

The following day, officials shot another black bear in the same neighborhood after it broke into a house. This bear, a much larger one, had a history of threatening children.

Another black bear attacked an eight-year-old boy in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The boy’s father and 10-year-old brother fought the bear off. The younger boy needed stitches and staples to close wounds to his torso, arms, and head. The father received minor wounds. Rangers shot and killed the bear, an 86-pound juvenile male.

There are eight species of bear, all of them formidable, though the panda and the South American spectacled bear hurt people only under extreme provocation. The sun and sloth bears, both found in Asia, don't prey on people, but are quick to perceive a threat and will claw people badly. The sloth bear, in particular, has killed many people in this manner. The remaining four species--polar, brown, American black, and Asiatic black--are all dangerous species that occasionally prey on people.

More information about bear attacks appears in Deadly Kingdom.

Tiger Attacks -- in Missouri

An odd coincidence: two tiger attacks in two days—both in Missouri. The first happened in Warrenton, not far from St Louis, where a tiger escaped its enclosure at an exotic animal sanctuary and mauled a volunteer worker. Surgeons amputated his lower leg. The Tiger News blog has some background, including allegations that the facility has not been properly run.

The second incident occurred in Branson West, where a 16-year-old worker entered a cage with a camera. One tiger knocked him down; two others seized him and dragged him into a water trough. Co-workers rescued him. At last report he was in critical condition with wounds that included bites to the neck.

Here’s more on both incidents from the Tri-City Herald.

UPDATE: This article from the Riverfront Times adds some useful context about the legal situation.

Elephant news

Near Tel Aviv, a seventeen-year old girl who trespassed in a zoo after hours was injured by an elephant.

Straight Dope has an interesting article on the aggression of wild African elephants toward rhinos. There’s an especially interesting claim that the elephants rape the carcasses of the rhinos.


Deadly Kingdom, Chapter 25: The Elephants

Alligator News

In Louisiana, an eleven-year-old boy lost an arm to an alligator. The gator was killed and the arm, still intact, extracted from its stomach. Doctors operated to re-attach it.

Alligators have killed some two dozen people in the US in the past 35 years. They have injured many more. Attacks on people are, however, rare.

Deadly Kingdom, Chapter 12: The Crocodilians

Articles and Essays by Gordon Grice

Hunger on the Wing
“The rosebushes took on the riddled look of lace, as though the grasshoppers had tasted the leaves and found them unappealing but serviceable.”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Secrets of the Siberian Elm
“In a corner of the yard was an amputated limb, as long as I was and thicker than my thigh.”
Bite of the Hobo Spider
“. . . a blistering wound ringed with yellow, like the moon in a halo of smog, often accompanied by headaches and, in rare cases, disturbed thinking.”
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

“The small, half-decomposed body came in for autopsy swathed in champagne-colored sheets, the way it had been found in a mound of leaves.”

Paging Dr. Moreau
"On live TV, Kac pushed a thick hollow needle into the flesh of his left leg to insert the chip."


Nature Gothic: Best Wildlife Stories of Gordon Grice

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators

The Red Hourglass is a memoir of my adventures with the most fascinating predators I know. It received favorable reviews in the New York Times and more than thirty other newspapers and magazines, and was named on best-of-the-year lists by the New York Public Library, the Los Angeles Times, and PEN Center West. I read from The Red Hourglass on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

"This is first-rate, unsentimental writing about nature and about the ways that human beings try to cope with the most terrible cruelties that nature offers up."--The New York Times

"An absolutely spellbinding book."--Elle

"Gordon Grice is one hell of a writer. I was originally disturbed by some of the killing he depicts, but his descriptions are so compelling that I had to read on. I'm glad I did. Grice pays close attention to the creatures he writes about, and it really pays off. The Red Hourglass is an absolutely first-rate book." --Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep

"The most interesting collection of essays I've read in years."--Arkansas Democrat Gazette

"Gordon Grice's essays hold the reader in their spell, and then carry him beyond the usual romance of the insect and animal world to something darker and far more interesting: Nature's Gothic. The Red Hourglass marks the debut of a fresh, strange, and wonderful new voice in American nature writing."--Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

"Elegant, and wryly funny."--Esquire

"A precise and savage blow aimed at our predatory supremacy--I wolfed it down."--Will Self, author of Great Apes

"First-rate. . . Feisty, felicitous prose."--Publishers Weekly

"Grice's fusion of scientific and literary gifts converts dangerous and ugly predators--including tarantulas, rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, and jungle pigs--into objects of fascination. . . He weaves an expert's knowledge of biology into an engrossing tapestry of personal narrative and philosophical reflection. . . . Inviting comparisons with Lewis Thomas and Peter Medawar, this book will delight those interested in either animals or literature."--Booklist

"Chilling. . . fascinating."--Houston Chronicle

"The stories can be gruesome, but they grip you because Grice never blinks . . . . The quality of his attention to the facts of life and his willingness to look the awful and the repellent straight in the eyes will earn your admiration."--Men's Journal

"A superb book. . . . Grice possesses the combination of a 9-year-old's fascination and an adult's common sense. . . . His reactions are enchantingly lyrical."--Los Angeles Times

"Eye-popping. . . . Grice combines homespun observations with biological facts, flavoring his findings with just the right measure of philosophical spice."--Entertainment Weekly

1. Black Widow

Read excerpts from this chapter online:

“There in the darkness I see something round as a flensed human skull, glinting like chipped obsidian, scarred with a pair of crimson triangles.”

"I do not recall having seen more abject pain manifested in any other medical or surgical condition."

2. Mantid

(Or "praying mantis," if you prefer.) Read a short excerpt here:

“The fight went on for another five minutes or so, the black cat eating, the green mantid still waving his limbs in protest.”

3. Rattlesnake

Read an excerpt here:
"It lies half-coiled in a stand of dusty green weeds, its jaw against the ground to catch the vibrations of any moving thing. Its forked black tongue slips out of its closed mouth, slashes in several directions, and slips back in. It is licking up particles of airborne scent and brushing them against the mass of olfactory nerves in the roof of its mouth."

4. Tarantula
5. Pig
6. Canid
7. Recluse

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators on Amazon

The Red Hourglass on Barnes & Noble

The Red Hourglass at an independent bookstore

The Red Hourglass at Borders

Red Hourglass : Lives of the Predators (99 Edition) on

Update for July 28

Serious dog attacks occur every day. I usually don’t report them here because they’re so common they’re hardly news. I’ll make an exception this week because of a couple of especially gruesome cases.

A three-year-old boy died in Jackson, Mississippi, as a result of being mauled by a pit bull. Here’s a follow-up story. In Michigan, a ten-year-old boy had to have his arm amputated after the family dog attacked him. Here's another article on the Michigan attack. Another notable case occurred in Brazil, where an 11-year-old boy bit a dog. The dog bit him first. The boy lost a canine tooth.

In Italy, a wounded deer created chaos and injured two people.

A grizzly bear attacked a woman in Cooper Landing, Alaska, leaving her in critical condition. A man camping in Gallatin National Forest near Yellowstone received minor injuries when a grizzly attacked him in his tent. We have reports posted by KVAL-TV, KPTV, and the Orlando Sentinel.

Near Caliente, California, a woman drove herself to help after being mauled by a black bear. Her wounds required ten hours of surgery. Her son describes her injuries in this follow-up article.

One more bear item:
In Sri Lanka, sloth bear populations are on the decline. These bears occasionally kill people in defensive attacks.

Newsflavor has a sampler of captive animals—performers, pets, zoo specimens—that have killed people.

Here’s more on the coyote-human conflicts in Southern California. The Mercury-News reports that recent wildfires may contribute to coyote problems.

A gray fox attacked two people in Pine Island. In Florida, a man shot his wife while trying to defend her against a fox. The woman escaped with a minor wound; the fox died.

Here’s a profile of shark expert Andy Dehart. If you can get past the hype for lame TV documentaries, you’ll find some interesting information here.

Here’s an interesting article on using forensic science in wildlife-related cases. It mentions last week’s bogus cougar attack story. Apparently, false reports of this kind are common.

Update for July 21

The Statesville Record and Landmark reports on increasing coyote populations in North Carolina. The article contains some good information about coyote behavior.

In Martins Creek, North Carolina, an animal attacked a 10-year-old girl and the woman who tried to protect her. Authorities think it was a gray fox. They’re investigating the possibility of rabies. By the way, it’s not too unusual for animal attack victims to feel unsure what attacked them. Real animals don’t always look like they do in picture books, and a scary situation can make it hard to notice the right details. Another 10-year-old girl was bitten by a rabid fox in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her father and a friend killed the animal. From the newspaper description, this would appear to have been a red fox. The article has some good background on rabies. Yet another fox attack occurred in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The persistent fox injured a 71-year-old woman.

Here’s an interesting post about leopards and lions attacking vehicles in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

This photo essay by Hal Brindley shows a leopard preying on a crocodile in Kruger. Lots of other nifty wildlife shots here as well.

A large kangaroo mauled a woman near Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia. "Her face has been ripped apart, her hand has been mauled, and she's got scratches all over her back and concussion," her son said. A pet dog chased the kangaroo away. Kangaroos are thought to behave more aggressively toward humans when food and water are scarce. The kangaroo population around mudgee has been high recently.

News Update for July 15

In Yellowstone National Park, a 12-year-old tourist had a minor dust-up with a bison. Guess who won?

Rabies season continues with fox attacks in Virginia and Pennsylvania and a feral cat case in Maryland. The woman attacked in Pennsylvania required surgery.

A seagull attacked a woman in Somerset, England. The news story makes the usual references to the Hitchcock movie.

The latest reports of coyotes killing pets come from Cincinnati and from Larga Vista, California. At Cal State-Long Beach, coyotes have been preying on semi-feral cats.

Here’s a blog entry about traveling in bear country. I recommend the book mentioned here, Stephen Herrero’s Bear Attacks. On the other side of the world, there’s a sketchy report of bear attacks in eastern India.

In Palo Alto, California, a cougar allegedly attacked a man in a park. The man escaped with no serious injuries. Authorities were unable to substantiate his story.

There was also a cougar sighting in a residential area of Banning, California.

In a rural area of India, villagers have taken to living in trees after attacks by elephants, tigers, and leopards.

Update for July 8: Bear attacks and more

A brown bear attacked a 14-year-old girl during a bike race in Anchorage, Alaska. Here are reports on the incident from the Telegraph and the Kansas City Star. NewsBlaze has more on recent bear attacks in Kashmir.

Knute Berger surveys animal attack stories on Crosscut.

Rabies season continues with more fox attacks, this time in Utica, New York, and a cat attack in Massachusetts.

News Round-up

Recent news items of interest:

Newsday reports redwinged blackbirds dive-bombing people in Chicago. (Scroll down to the third item.) Many bird species launch similar attacks. Some attacks are simply territorial, while others are meant to protect hatchlings. Humans are not the only victims of this mobbing behavior—dogs, cats, birds of prey, and others may also be attacked. I often pass a certain redwinged blackbird on my morning walks who objects to my presence. Clearly I come too near a nest, though I haven’t figured out exactly where it is so I can avoid it. So far the bird is content to merely threaten me. I’ll let you know if he gets physical.

Crows have been up to the same thing in Seattle. An article in the Post-Intelligencer offers some good background on the habituation of wild animals to humans, including coyotes and bears.

In Neosho, Missouri, a black leopard came scratching at the back door of a home. The resident wisely called for help. The deputy who responded to the call had to kill the cat when it charged him. Leopards are not native to the Americas. This one may be an escaped pet. Captive cats are a growing problem in the US.

Near Pinos Altos, New Mexico, a cougar killed a man who lived alone in a trailer. Law enforcement officers wounded the cat to drive it away from the missing man’s trailer. They later found his remains in the woods. This was a predatory attack. Here's another article about it.

Fox attacks are in the news again, this time in South Carolina.

Here’s an interesting article about the danger hybrid carnivores pose for livestock in Australia.

In Lubbock, Texas, bees swarmed a family of five in their home. One child suffered more than 30 stings.

The Salt Lake Tribune has advice about dealing with dangerous wildlife in Utah. The bear advice applies to black bears, not to the grizzlies people might encounter in other areas. Playing dead sometimes works with grizzlies because they often attack for reasons other than hunger, such as defense of cubs and a touchy territorial sense. Black bears seldom attack, but when they do, it’s usually because they mean to eat you.

In Florida, a young man lost an arm to an alligator after an ill-advised late-night swim. This was yet another instance of how poorly alcohol and crocodilians mix. Here’s an interesting commentary on the event.

In Kenya, an elderly man died after defending his adult son from a hyena attack. The son was also injured.

Here’s an article about the incursion of lionfish into Florida waters. Lionfish have venomous spines that can hurt people who step on or handle them. It should be noted that alarmist stories about impending animal “invasions” are a staple of news reports. The dire consequences you read about in such stories rarely materialize.

MSNBC has a follow-up story about a man who was mauled by a grizzly a few weeks ago in British Columbia.

In South Korea, wild boars and people have been in conflict. The boars have killed livestock and people and destroyed crops.

In Arizona, a javelina bit a tourist.

News Round-up

Interesting reports on the web this week:

Perth Now has a follow-up feature on a shark attack that occurred last month. A great white injured a swimmer.

Forbes has a story about the harms humans do to sharks. It also mentions the (much rarer) reverse scenario.

The Hotel Club Travel Blog has a round-up of dangerous wildlife tourists might encounter in Australia. Good photography with some decent summaries, though the writer is a little shaky on jellyfish.

A stray cat with rabies attacked at least three people in South Hadley, Massachusetts, before one victim killed it. Here are reports from the Springfield Republican, the Boston Herald, and the local CBS affiliate.

In Pine Grove, California, a gray fox attacked a man in a hot tub. Rabies is the most common reason when foxes attack people without provocation, but no one knows whether this one was rabid, as it escaped the man, who hotly pursued with a garden hoe. A fox in Henrico County, Virginia, tested positive for rabies. It was found dead, but authorities believe it was responsible for an earlier attack on a woman in her back yard. The incidence of rabies in animal populations varies according to season, with spring and fall the worst seasons in most of the US.

NewsBlaze reports the latest in a series of bear attacks in Srinagar, Kashmir.

The Saga of the Man-Eaters, Conclusion

Concluding the world's most famous tale of feline carnivory from JH Patterson's classic The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.
Go to the beginning of this story.


There were some rocky-looking hills lying to the south-west of Tsavo which I was particularly anxious to explore, so on one occasion when work had been stopped for the day owing to lack of material, I set off for them. In the course of my little excursions round Tsavo I gradually discovered that I was nearly always able to make my way to any required point of the compass by following certain well-defined animal paths, which I mapped out bit by bit during my explorations. On this occasion, for instance, as soon as we had crossed the river and had struck into the jungle, we were fortunate enough to find a rhino path leading in the right direction, which greatly facilitated our progress.

We proceeded on our way, getting further and further into the depths of a gloomy forest. A little distance on, I noticed through a break in the trees a huge rhino standing in full view near the edge of a ravine. Unfortunately he caught sight of us as well, and before I could take aim, he snorted loudly and crashed off through the tangled undergrowth. As I followed up this ravine, walking stealthily along in the delightful shade of the overhanging palms, I observed on my left a little nullah which opened out of the main channel through a confused mass of jungle and creeper. Through this tangle there was a well-defined archway, doubtless made by the regular passage of rhino and hippo, so I decided to enter and explore what lay beyond. I had not gone very far when I came upon a big bay scooped out of the bank by the stream when in flood and carpeted with a deposit of fine, soft sand, in which were the indistinct tracks of numberless animals. In one corner of this bay, close under an overhanging tree, stood a little sandy hillock, and on looking over the top of this I saw on the other side a fearsome-looking cave which seemed to run back for a considerable distance under the rocky bank. Round the entrance and inside the cavern I was thunderstruck to find a number of human bones, with here and there a copper bangle such as the natives wear. Beyond all doubt, the man-eaters' den! In this manner, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon the lair of these once-dreaded "demons", which I had spent so many days searching for through the exasperating and interminable jungle during the time when they terrorised Tsavo. I had no inclination to explore the gloomy depths of the interior, but thinking that there might possibly still be a lioness or cub inside, I fired a shot or two into the cavern through a hole in the roof. Save for a swarm of bats, nothing came out; and after taking a photograph of the cave, I gladly left the horrible spot, thankful that the savage and insatiable brutes which once inhabited it were no longer at large.

[This concludes the story of the two famous man-eaters of Tsavo, but it doesn't conclude Patterson's book. He goes on to describe several other encounters with dangerous wildlife, including other human-eating lions. I'll be posting his anecdotes from time to time.]

The Saga of the Man-Eaters, Part 6

Continuing with the prime cuts of JH Patterson's classic The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.
Go to the beginning of this story.


It must not be imagined that with the death of this lion our troubles at Tsavo were at an end; his companion was still at large, and very soon began to make us unpleasantly aware of the fact. Only a few nights elapsed before he made an attempt to get at the Permanent Way Inspector, climbing up the steps of his bungalow and prowling round the verandah. The Inspector, hearing the noise and thinking it was a drunken coolie, shouted angrily "Go away!" but, fortunately for him, did not attempt to come out or to open the door. Thus disappointed in his attempt to obtain a meal of human flesh, the lion seized a couple of the Inspector's goats and devoured them there and then.

On hearing of this occurrence, I determined to sit up the next night near the Inspector's bungalow. Fortunately there was a vacant iron shanty close at hand, with a convenient loophole in it for firing from; and outside this I placed three full-grown goats as bait, tying them to a half-length of rail, weighing about 250 lbs. The night passed uneventfully until just before daybreak, when at last the lion turned up, pounced on one of the goats and made off with it, at the same time dragging away the others, rail and all. I fired several shots in his direction, but it was pitch dark and quite impossible to see anything, so I only succeeded in hitting one of the goats. I often longed for a flash-light on such occasions.

Next morning I started off in pursuit and was joined by some others from the camp. I found that the trail of the goats and rail was easily followed, and we soon came up, about a quarter of a mile away, to where the lion was still busy at his meal. He was concealed in some thick bush and growled angrily on hearing our approach; finally, as we got closer, he suddenly made a charge, rushing through the bushes at a great pace. In an instant, every man of the party scrambled hastily up the nearest tree, with the exception of one of my assistants, Mr. Winkler, who stood steadily by me throughout. The brute, however, did not press his charge home: and on throwing stones into the bushes where we had last seen him, we guessed by the silence that he had slunk off. We therefore advanced cautiously, and on getting up to the place discovered that he had indeed escaped us, leaving two off the goats scarcely touched.

Thinking that in all probability the lion would return as usual to finish his meal, I had a very strong scaffolding put up a few feet away from the dead goats, and took up my position on it before dark. On this occasion I brought my gun-bearer, Mahina, to take a turn at watching, as I was by this time worn out for want of sleep, having spent so many nights on the look-out. I was just dozing off comfortably when suddenly I felt my arm seized, and on looking up saw Mahina pointing in the direction of the goats. "Sher!" ("Lion!") was all he whispered. I grasped my double smooth-bore, which, I had charged with slug, and waited patiently. In a few moments I was rewarded, for as I watched the spot where I expected the lion to appear, there was a rustling among the bushes and I saw him stealthily emerge into the open and pass almost directly beneath us. I fired both barrels practically together into his shoulder, and to my joy could see him go down under the force of the blow. Quickly I reached for the magazine rifle, but before I could use it, he was out of sight among the bushes, and I had to fire after him quite at random. Nevertheless I was confident of getting him in the morning, and accordingly set out as soon as it was light. For over a mile there was no difficulty in following the blood-trail, and as he had rested several times I felt sure that he had been badly wounded. In the end, however, my hunt proved fruitless, for after a time the traces of blood ceased and the surface of the ground became rocky, so that I was no longer able to follow the spoor.

About this time Sir Guilford Molesworth, K.C.I.E., late Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for State Railways, passed through Tsavo on a tour of inspection on behalf of the Foreign Office. After examining the bridge and other works and expressing his satisfaction, he took a number of photographs, one or two of which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce in this book. He thoroughly sympathised with us in all the trials we had endured from the man-eaters, and was delighted that one at least was dead. When he asked me if I expected to get the second lion soon, I well remember his half-doubting smile as I rather too confidently asserted that I hoped to bag him also in the course of a few days.

As it happened, there was no sign of our enemy for about ten days after this, and we began to hope that he had died of his wounds in the bush. All the same we still took every precaution at night, and it was fortunate that we did so, as otherwise at least one more victim would have been added to the list. For on the night of December 27, I was suddenly aroused by terrified shouts from my trolley men, who slept in a tree close outside my boma, to the effect that a lion was trying to get at them. It would have been madness to have gone out, as the moon was hidden by dense clouds and it was absolutely impossible to see anything more than a yard in front of one; so all I could do was to fire off a few rounds just to frighten the brute away. This apparently had the desired effect, for the men were not further molested that night; but the man-eater had evidently prowled about for some time, for we found in the morning that he had gone right into every one of their tents, and round the tree was a regular ring of his footmarks.

The following evening I took up my position in this same tree, in the hope that he would make another attempt. The night began badly, as, while climbing up to my perch I very nearly put my hand on a venomous snake which was lying coiled round one of the branches. As may be imagined, I came down again very quickly, but one of my men managed to despatch it with a long pole. Fortunately the night was clear and cloudless, and the moon made every thing almost as bright as day. I kept watch until about 2 a.m., when I roused Mahina to take his turn. For about an hour I slept peacefully with my back to the tree, and then woke suddenly with an uncanny feeling that something was wrong. Mahina, however, was on the alert, and had seen nothing; and although I looked carefully round us on all sides, I too could discover nothing unusual. Only half satisfied, I was about to lie back again, when I fancied I saw something move a little way off among the low bushes. On gazing intently at the spot for a few seconds, I found I was not mistaken. It was the man-eater, cautiously stalking us.

The ground was fairly open round our tree, with only a small bush every here and there; and from our position it was a most fascinating sight to watch this great brute stealing stealthily round us, taking advantage of every bit of cover as he came. His skill showed that he was an old hand at the terrible game of man-hunting: so I determined to run no undue risk of losing him this time. I accordingly waited until he got quite close -- about twenty yards away -- and then fired my .303 at his chest. I heard the bullet strike him, but unfortunately it had no knockdown effect, for with a fierce growl he turned and made off with great long bounds. Before he disappeared from sight, however, I managed to have three more shots at him from the magazine rifle, and another growl told me that the last of these had also taken effect.

We awaited daylight with impatience, and at the first glimmer of dawn we set out to hunt him down. I took a native tracker with me, so that I was free to keep a good look-out, while Mahina followed immediately behind with a Martini carbine. Splashes of blood being plentiful, we were able to get along quickly; and we had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile through the jungle when suddenly a fierce warning growl was heard right in front of us. Looking cautiously through the bushes, I could see the man-eater glaring out in our direction, and showing his tusks in an angry snarl. I at once took careful aim and fired. Instantly he sprang out and made a most determined charge down on us. I fired again and knocked him over; but in a second he was up once more and coming for me as fast as he could in his crippled condition. A third shot had no apparent effect, so I put out my hand for the Martini, hoping to stop him with it. To my dismay, however, it was not there. The terror of the sudden charge had proved too much for Mahina, and both he and the carbine were by this time well on their way up a tree. In the circumstances there was nothing to do but follow suit, which I did without loss of time: and but for the fact that one of my shots had broken a hind leg, the brute would most certainly have had me. Even as it was, I had barely time to swing myself up out of his reach before he arrived at the foot of the tree.

When the lion found he was too late, he started to limp back to the thicket; but by this time I had seized the carbine from Mahina, and the first shot I fired from it seemed to give him his quietus, for he fell over and lay motionless. Rather foolishly, I at once scrambled down from the tree and walked up towards him. To my surprise and no little alarm he jumped up and attempted another charge. This time, however, a Martini bullet in the chest and another in the head finished him for good and all; he dropped in his tracks not five yards away from me, and died gamely, biting savagely at a branch which had fallen to the ground.

By this time all the workmen in camp, attracted by the sound of the firing, had arrived on the scene, and so great was their resentment against the brute who had killed such numbers of their comrades that it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could restrain them from tearing the dead body to pieces. Eventually, amid the wild rejoicings of the natives and coolies, I had the lion carried to my boma, which was close at hand. On examination we found no less than six bullet holes in the body, and embedded only a little way in the flesh of the back was the slug which I had fired into him from the scaffolding about ten days previously. He measured nine feet six inches from tip of nose to tip of tail, and stood three feet eleven and a half inches high; but, as in the case of his companion, the skin was disfigured by being deeply scored all over by the boma thorns.

The news of the death of the second "devil" soon spread far and wide over the country, and natives actually travelled from up and down the line to have a look at my trophies and at the "devil-killer", as they called me. Best of all, the coolies who had absconded came flocking back to Tsavo, and much to my relief work was resumed and we were never again troubled by man-eaters.

They had devoured between them no less than twenty-eight Indian coolies, in addition to scores of unfortunate African natives of whom no official record was kept.


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