Saturday, April 7, 2007

A Wondrously Venomous and Toothy Country

We are about to leave Atlanta with its troublesome squirrels and gentle deer to go to a place with a few more natural challenges.

I was re-reading Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburnt Country" last night when I came upon this vivid description of the "delicate and diaphanous" box jellyfish, which lives along the shores of Queensland during the summer:
In 1992 a young man in Cairns, ignoring all the warning signs, went swimming in the Pacific waters at a place called Holloways Beach. He swam and dove, taunting his friends on the beach for their prudent cowardice, and then began to scream with an inhuman sound. It is said that there is no pain to compare with it. The young man staggered from the water, covered in livid whiplike stripes wherever the jellyfish's tentacles had brushed across him, and collapsed in quivering shock. Soon afterward emergency crews arrived, inflated him with morphine, and took him away for treatment. And here's the thing. Even unconscious and sedated, he was still screaming.

Good news! This will not be the only jellyfish to worry about in our new land. The Irukandji jellyfish, a highly venomous creature only about an inch long, was recently spotted in Hervey Bay (near Brisbane), forcing the filming of a new movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson to move to a safer location. I also found this story about a recent stinging by one of these little critters in a pool in Townsville. I like how the story reports that the teenage girl was "severely stung," but there is no other word about her condition. I guess "still alive" is considered good enough.

And then there are the pythons. Apparently they are commonly found around Brisbane, although pythons are not one of the 14 species of Australian snakes that are poisonous. When I was at a group dinner last October, one of the staff at UQ told me about the python that once slithered up on his veranda while everyone was enjoying the sun, including his cat. A few minutes later there was a muffled scream--his cat was being crushed by the snake. The End. Everyone at my table (all Australians) chuckled at this story and then went on sipping their wine.