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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Palestine Pests

page 12

Palestine Pests

If anyone took the trouble to preserve all the birds, beasts and creeping things that enter his bivvy, he would be able to stock a museum in a month. Nearly every order of the animal kingdom would be represented, from insects to carnivores. Most of our uninvited guests are "undesirables" from the comfort point of view, and are classed as pests; but, as a naturalist, I always welcomed any Desert creature that paid me a call, and whiled away leisure hours wat-ching its ways.

Scorpions swarm all over Palestine, and nearly a dozen species have been described. They are mentioned in the Bible: "Who led thee through that great and terrible Wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions and drought" (Deut. VIII. 15.). "My father has chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scor-pions" (I. Kings. XII.). Many of us have been "chastised with scorpions", and are noi much the worse for it. Their sting is venomous, but not deadly. An old and effectual remedy for reducing the pain and swelling caused by a scor-pion's sting is ammonia and sweet oil. Scorpions lurk in rock crevices, under stones and among ruins. The giant of the tribe, and also the most venomous, measures about six inches in length when full grown. It is black as a moonless night. Other kinds are variously coloured, brown, yellow, reddish or white; and some are prettily marked with stripes or bands. The pale amber-coloured species is nearly as venomous as the black monster; in fact, all of them should be treated with respect. They are very active in hot weather, but remain dormant when the air is cold.

Spiders come next to scorpions in the list of Palestine's lesser pests. Their name is legion. No naturalist seems to have made a special study of the Promised Land species, which probably total nearly a thousand. Some are semi-poiso-nous, but none is to be feared like the black scorpion. The most familiar kind is a big, brown-ish-coloured arachnid, commonly, but errone-ously, called "Tarantula". The Arab name is Ras. It is a hideous creature, with four talon-shaped jaws that work fiercely when the
Black Scorpion.

Black Scorpion.

spider is angry—it is rarely. in gentle mood. The Ras lives in burrows, but is often seen prowling abroad in quest of prey. A most interesting species is the Mason spider (Mygale cementaria), whose burrow is lined with silk, and provided with a trap door made of the same material, mingled with crumbs of earth or sand,

which fits the aperture as neatly as the lid fits a tobacco tin. When the door is shut, its outer surface harmonises so perfectly with the ground, that one might search for hours without finding the burrow.

Beetles blunder into the bivvies every day, beetles of all shapes and sizes, from the tiny brown curculio to the great black scarab. Pales-tine boasts of more than 500 species, and most of them are abundant. In the horse lines often it would be easy to gather a bucketful of scarabs, without making any appreciable gaps in their ranks. The ways of the scarab are "vain", like those of the Heathen Chinee, and delicacy for-bids that we should enquire into them. It is better to study those little carved images of the sacred beetle, which you can buy at the Pyramids —"dinkurn. antiques"—for apiastre a piece. They had pecular tastes, those Ancient Egyptians; they wouldn't have canonised the scarab if they had lived in bivvies in Palestine.

Grasshoppers and crickets are destructive in-sects, but their presence in a bivvy can be borne with more equanimity than that of most other uninvited guests. Plagues of locusts (grasshoppers)

still ravage the land, even as of old time. There are many species in the East, the most
Œdipoda Micratoria.

Œdipoda Micratoria.

destructive being Peregrinum acridium and (Edipoda migratoria. Can't help giving these monikers, thsy are the only ones these locusts possess, unless you call them Arbeh, which is the Hebrew word for the eighth plague of Egypt. At certain seasons locusts appear in countless numbers and sweep across miles of country, devastating it completely. The East wind brings the locusts; and they darken the face of the earth, devouring every leaf and stem, till the West wind comes like an avenging army and sweeps them into the sea, which drowns them, then casts them ashore, building long ramparts of dead bodies that taint the air for weeks. Some Arab tribes use locusts as food. Stewed with butter they are said to taste like shrimps; but one would need a good deal of gastronomic courage to dine on buttered grasshoppers.

We can scarcely brand the ants as pests, indeed they are rather welcome guests in a bivvy; but hornets we must away with. The sting of a lusty hornet is like a thrust from a white-hot lancet—something to treasure? in memory long after the pain has faded. The Holy Land is blessed, or otherwise, with several kinds of hornets; don't meddle with any one of them, or you are like to rue the day. When a velvety brown insect banded in gold whizzes into your bivvy, don't attempt to strafe it; just lie still and let it fly out again.

The worst pests of Palestine, when all is said, are the flies. There are houseflies and gadflies, gnats and mosquitoes. They all belong to the same natural Order, Diptera, and every one of them is a pest of the first water. A species that abounds in the Jordan Valley is called, in Arabic, Dthebab; it is a gadfly and torments horses unmercifully. The common housefly (Musca) devotes its attention to "askarris"; and if all the curses that are levelled at it come home to roost, none of us will ever see Aussie again.