1. Mutual of Roanoke’s Wild Kingdom! Of Spiders!

    YESTERDAY, friends, I promised you a little something. Or rather, a bunch of big, hairy, evil, deadly somethings, plural. And today…? Well, today I deliver.

    Because as I find out again and again, over and over, on each trip there…

    Now understand this: I saw a good deal many more than I photographed. But after a while, you become desensitized to the horror. You go numb. You’re in a constant state of shock. Your fingers are trembling too much to work the knobs and dials on your blogging camera.

    That or you’re running for your goddamn life.

    Look at this monster. And I pray to God you’re not eating.

    On my screen the damn thing is life size, and I have a big screen. Oh, some will claim it’s a harmless orb weaver – a common garden spider that keeps down the pest population. I ask you: If this is the good guy, what in holy hell must the “pests” be like?! And did you get a good look at those pedipalps?!

    Next up – and I warn you, it just gets worse – is this eight-legged spawn of Satan:

    Again – on my computer – about life size. Consider yourself lucky if you’re looking at this on a smartphone. The body alone was the size of a big ripe cherry tomato, which was ironic because he and his extended family were living…

    …in a large garden of cherry tomato plants. And among my chores while visiting was to pick cherry tomatoes for the salad for dinner! (The website said “charming bed and breakfast;” it was more of a socialist granola-y hippy commune. Everyone had to do their  share of the work all while singing folk songs about Obama. On the plus side, clothing was optional.)

    Anyway, let’s go in for a closeup of that particular behemoth.

    As you can see, it’s a little out of focus. My hands were shaking. Yours would be too.

    Like I said, I had to reach in there and pluck off cherry tomatoes roughly the same size and shape as these spider’s abdomens, or as they’re scientifically known, bloated venom sacs. Thank God I finally got that cataract surgery last year or I probably wouldn’t be coming home with all eleven of my fingers intact.

    Onward! We need to get through this, gang. We’ll be stronger people for it if we do. Yeah, keep telling yourself that.

    Check out this obscene colossus of hair and legs:

    I honestly don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that moments later, a huge wasp appeared, attacked and stung it, and began dragging its lethargic, paralyzed body into a hole. (True!) Because that brings up the issue of the other entomological wildlife in Virginia, this veritable statewide Jurassic Park for insects. But more on that later.

    Have a look at this unholy beast:

    Disgusting. And not merely because he still hasn’t redeemed that Groupon to have his webhole bleached.

    I’m pretty sure this is the same bastard from the second picture in this photographic essay (industry term). There were easily dozens of this particular repulsive and horrifying variety all over. Some were just easier to photograph than others. And might I, once again, point out those pedipalps? This vile creature could bench press a freaking cicada.

    I alluded to other heinous bugs. These leaping hellions, for instance:

    Is it just me or does the one on top, with its abhorrent insectoid features, somehow manage to look indignant at being photographed? (But, hell, if such glares were enough to detract me from snapping pictures of hideous creatures furiously engaged in an unholy act, my Tumblr page of fat, bearded men in their sixties in the bushes at San Onofre wouldn’t be getting so many hits, right?)

    Where was I? Ah yes – walk across the lawn and these foul creatures fly up all around you in enormous numbers. I, and now you, can’t help but to find it amusing that in such a God-fearing part of the country, these locusts are busy procreating in anticipation for when the Creator orders up a new plague. (As though the never-ending profusion of stinkbugs He’s already sent wasn’t enough!)

    Speaking of Him, what in God’s name is this abomination?

    Don’t bother answering. No one knows. Apparently I’ve discovered a new species of freaky, disgusting bug with a tail nearly the length of its reptilian body that we must assume is razor sharp, stronger than steel, and can puncture flesh and bone to deliver a deadly toxin – for which there is no antidote – directly to the heart. I shall name it Musca colubrus daemonus ted parsnippus, or Ted’s Demon Serpent Fly. Why don’t one of you get started on the Wikipedia page for it for me?

    Virginia doesn’t just have gigantic spiders, locusts and stinkbugs by the truckload and Ted’s Demon Serpent Flies™, oh heavens no, that would never be enough. Jesus. It also has those coronary-causing house centipedes.

    From US Department of Agriculture Chief Entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt’s 1902 masterwork “Circular #48 – The House Centipede”:

    Now you know why I stopped wearing women’s clothes.

    And don’t even get me started on the horrifying monster locally known as the “bell hornet” or as it should be known, the “Hell Hornet.” And I’m capitalizing it to show it respect.

    Once again – on my computer screen…? Life-size, folks. Life-freakin’-size!

    Now I’ll say this: It’s unclear exactly what type of evil, stinging monster bedevils the good glade-people of Hill, Virginia because “bell hornet” is indeed a regional name for this winged horror – the few references to “bell hornet” I can find online seem to be from folks in this part of the state (which is kind of refreshing, right – that local colloquialisms still exist, right?). The above photo is actually of a European hornet, from a European website, taken in the proud country of Europe.

    But everything I’ve read about these malevolent European giants dovetail (hornet-tail?) with what I was told as well as witnessed firsthand in Virginia – they’re enormous, they destroy apples right on the tree, their sting burns for days, they are active at night and attracted to light – and the ones I saw looked just like this!

    The relaxing tranquility we were enjoying one evening at local hotspot Field View Tavern was shattered by the sudden and house-shaking pounding on a sliding patio door – a bell hornet looking for fresh victims. Disaster was thankfully averted before the glass gave out only when one of the proprietors managed to scare it off with a crossbow. But they knew the hornet would be back. Hopefully, they’ll again be ready for it.

    I think we’ve cleansed our palate enough. Back to the spiders.

    The lion’s share – or lion spider’s share, if such a spider exists, and I think at this point we can all presume it does exist and lives in Virginia – the lion spider’s share of enormous Virginia spiders will of course be found in the state’s copious fields and meadows, where they don’t bother building dainty little frou-frou webs but rather actively stalk their prey – insects, field mice, voles, woodchucks, livestock and, yes, in the cases where ranchers have developed a tenuous but symbiotic relationship with the ferocious arachnids,  the occasional trespasser.

    Don’t believe me? Well, then just try to step into that yonder meadow there.

    I reckon you won’t make it past the barbed wire.

    Posted by on September 13, 2012, 11:18 AM.

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