Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creepy Crawly Critters and Creatures

Disclaimer: If you do not like hearing about or seeing bugs, do not read this post, it will just ruin your day. Nothing is graphic, and I have no photos of cockroaches (you're welcome Whit!), but I'm just giving you fair warning. 

Ok then, glad you're still with me.  

It is seriously unreal how many bugs and little critters there are in Nigeria. Their sheer number and variety threatens to be overwhelming to anyone new to this kind of situation. Like me, for instance. It's also rainy season, so bugs are everywhere, or should I say, they're everywhere inside, since they (like me) don't care to be outside in the rain. Now that I've been able to photograph a wide variety of critters, I though I'd share them with you. I did my best to include my Pilot Precise Pen in pictures so that you could get a feel for the size of some of these critters. It wasn't always possible, so you'll just have to use your imagination for those.

Winged Wonders
I knew mosquitoes would be one of my biggest enemies here, but of course I've never been able to photograph one of them. Since I got malaria 15 days after arriving (Note: it generally takes 14 days for the parasite to multiply enough for symptoms to occur, so I likely was bitten by a malarial mosquito in my first 48 hours), despite taking prophylaxis, I'd say it's Mosquitoes: 1; Liz: 0. Moving on to bigger and better things, as they say.

The moths here are insanely big. They're not scary, just huge. Here are some photos:
(This one was on a patterned floor, so it's hard to really appreciate it)

(Ah yes, there is a good one, on a white wall!)

And then there are the termites. They would come out in swarms at the Conference Center (where I  stayed when I was first here), because there were little lights at knee level lining the outdoor walkways, and they are attracted to light. I don't know that I've ever seen winged termites, but there were definitely lots of them!  

The last winged creature I would like to share is the praying mantis. I learned on Wikipedia that their closest relative is the termite. Interesting. I don't see these all that often, but they just are entirely fascinating looking, so I needed to snap a photo to share. This one happened to be on my door frame, seemingly ready to hop on inside the room when I opened the door:

The Scary Ones
Someone mentioned something about "soldier ants" at some point when I was first here, but because people were always telling me one thing or another about some thing or another, I just couldn't sort through what was most important or relevant. Ants that walk around in straight lines did not seem concerning to me at the time, so I forgot about them. Until I woke up at 2am one night and as I looked out the window that is next to my bed, I saw (there are security lights around the house along the roof) that the partially opened shutters appeared to be vibrating. I wiped my eyes to make sure I wasn't imagining things, but they still appeared to be pulsating. I grabbed my headlamp, and as I turned it on I was shocked to see thousands upon thousands of ants crawling on the shutters, on my windowsill, and into my room. Right next to my bed. 

What I learned that night is that soldier ants aren't simply cute little ants that walk around in straight lines, but fierce vicious invaders that travel in the thousands and bite/sting you when they crawl on you. Which of course some did.  

Thankfully I keep Insecticide in my room, so I quickly turned on the overhead light and sprayed generous amounts on the invading insects, and all around the wall where they were entering. The insecticide here is serious business, so it kills them quickly, and sends the others packing. After that, I had the pleasure of walking out into the hall to find they were invading from the front of the house as well, so I just kept on spraying and kept on dancing around so they wouldn't crawl up my legs. I was probably a funny sight to see. 

After I dealt with the ants I had to deal with the crickets. Or at least I think they were crickets. They looked like crickets, but didn't chirp like crickets. Anyhow, ants are food to crickets, so where there are thousands of ants, there are hundreds of crickets. And they don't just walk around in little rows, oh no. They hop around wherever they feel like it, which in my case meant all over my house. They aren't easily spray-able, so I had to kill them one by one. And kill them all I did, at least in my room, so I could have any hope of falling back asleep. I left the remainder of the house for the following day. 

The next morning I used the white powder I was given by that someone who said something about soldier ants that suddenly seemed so relevant: "Use this if you have ants, they can't cross it!" I put a line of it outside around my entire house, and on the outside ledge of my bedroom window. That should keep them away. Needless to say, in all the 2am chaos I didn't manage to stop and take a picture. But. A few days later there was a soldier ant invasion at the main house, or at least an attempt. I saw them filing along the base of the house and on the outside walls, so I alerted my host family, and they sprang into action. One thing they did was put some palm oil on the grass in their yard, which attracts and distracts the ants. Very successfully I might add. In a calmer state of mind, I was able to take a photo of the ants swarming the palm oil. You should probably click on this one to see the full size and get the full effect of just how many are there:   

Moving along. I figured that surely super intense spiders exist in Nigeria, but I've only seen an assortment of annoying-but-not-scary spiders. Until last week. I saw a seriously intense looking spider in my hallway. After surviving the soldier ant invasion, I was not phased by any ONE creature. And since I don't know anything about which spiders bite or are poisonous, I don't even know if I should have been scared that this one was in my house. So I took a photo, took off my flip-flop, and took care of business.

Lizards and Geckos
I want to say that lizards are as common in Ife as squirrels are in rural areas in the U.S., (at least in PA, where I grew up), but I'm not sure that's accurate. I actually think lizards are MORE common than that. They're just everywhere. You walk down a sidewalk that is lined with bushes, and they scatter every few yards. They climb and crawl on everything outside, but only occasionally come inside. They just hang out, and are mostly on the small size, ranging from a few inches to a bit over a foot. This first one is a very common lizard to see in Ife, and while I don't know it's name, the orange head and tail and blue body are how they all look:

This second type is also common. Light brown/tan and smaller than the first kind:

Then there are wall geckos. Now. For my first seven weeks here I thought they were called WAR geckos. Because when Nigerians say "wall" it sounds like "war." And because there are SOLDIER ants, it didn't seem odd to have WAR geckos. These little guys are small and almost snakelike, as they seem to slither rather than walk. Their name in Yoruba means "children of the house," which is an apt name, given that I only seem to see them INSIDE houses, and they "live with you" like part of the family. I never saw any when I was staying at the Conference Center, but my first night in my Boys Quarters there were about five spread out in my room, kitchen, and bathroom. Considering I had never seen them before and thought they were called WAR geckos, I was (hopefully) understandably nervous about their presence in my room. If I had known they were WALL geckos I may have deduced that they stay only on walls, but WAR geckos seemed like the kind of critter that would crawl on my bed, and thereby on me, in the middle of the night. Definitely the kind of thing that would start a war. As such, I decided that I would just kill them all and sleep in peace, rather than in a warzone. Except, all I did was create a warzone, because they are terribly hard to catch and/or kill. As I now know, they only crawl on the walls, and usually stay up high, often in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. 

So there I was trying to stand on a rickety plastic chair and use a homemade broom to swat them down from their lofty perch, then somehow try to paralyze/kill them. But they're really fast. And really slithery. And they just don't die easily when you're hitting them with a bunch of bundled sticks. And here's the kicker- after you smack them a few times, their tails pop off. True story. And then you have TWO slithery wriggly critters to deal with. Yes, the tail keeps slithering after it pops off the body. Aye. It's giving me heart palpitations just to recall that night. 

Anyhow. I did manage to deal with all but one of them, sweep them onto a dustpan and throw them into the woods behind my house. Here is a picture of one while it was stunned but before any gruesome tail-offing:

A few days later I was telling someone about my first evening battle with the geckos, and they said (after laughing heartily, which most Nigerians do when I tell them the story), "You shouldn't kill the geckos. They eat mosquitoes and cockroaches. So if you kill the geckos, you'll have mosquitoes and cockroaches. That, ladies and gentlemen, was a sure and speedy way to convince me to live at peace with the War Geckos (I still thought they were War Geckos at the time). Let them make war with the malarial mosquitoes and diiiisgusting cockroaches, rather than me. Done and done.

Then a few weeks later I was in my bathroom and I looked to see a little visitor up near the ceiling. A wall gecko. With no tail. And then I felt so bad, because I was the cause of this cute little mosquito-eater not having a tail. And there he was, visiting the very war zone where he was permanently maimed, just chillin and saying hi. Sorry little guy:

Cuter Critters
If you're read this far, well done. I thought I'd get it out there all at once, so thanks for staying with me through all the creepy crawliness. After so many undesirable critters, I would like to leave you with a few pictures of some friendlier creatures. Some friends of mine have a number of animals, including chickens, goats, cats, and a dog. The chickens and cats don't stand still long enough to be photographed, and I forgot to get a picture of the (really big and really cuddly) German Shepherd. But I did photograph their goats, all of which lined up in a convenient row for my photo: 

And finally, a bunny. Yes, a pet bunny, just like we'd have in the U.S. This bunny belongs to my host family, and for my first three weeks I didn't even know it existed! Now that I know about him I go visit occasionally and pet his white furry fluffiness:
I really really hope this little guy is truly a pet and not a special Christmas Day treat.
Welcome to Nigeria.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is hilarious. The lizards are called "Agama Lizards". The blue ones with red/orange heads are the males and the grey ones are female. Soldier ants (a.k.a - "ijalo"; pronounced ee-jah-lore) are no joke - they can be vicious. The winged termites make for a good snack if you can gather enough and dry-roast them - serious. Praying mantis and wall geckos are friends - they eat the nasty bugs.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and the tails of the wall geckos fall off when attacked, as a survival mechanism - distracts the predator and wiggles so the predator can focus on eating that while the gecko scurries away to safety. Tails eventually grow back in time...a long time though. - D

AnnaBanana said...

Ha, this reminds me of our bunny adventure "PLease take care of it and don't judge me":))) And now we know what our having roachies in our kitchen prepared you for ;) You are a trooper!