Thursday, December 30, 2010

Small dangers


Some animals are so cute and little, you may think, how much trouble can they be? Here are some stories to remind you not to let down your guard in the new year.

-There goes the neighborhood:

England is stereotypically the sort of place where it's hard to be truly accepted into society if you weren't born there. The same seems to be true for animals. Rabbits were introduced a couple thousand years ago by the Romans, but they're still considered a non-native invasive species.

But maybe there'd be less prejudice against them if they were better citizens. A recent study says that in Britain, these zillionth-generation immigrants cost the economy more than £260m a year including damage to crops, businesses and infrastructure.

The Romans may not have realized what they were doing, but we didn't learn from their mistake. Humans can't seem to resist inviting adorable guests who end up overstaying their welcome. Gray squirrels were fashionable pets for the rich Englishpersons in the 19th century, an import from North America, but like all these trendy pets, people eventually get bored of them. A couple were released in 1876 and now their descendents cause £14m in damage and are driving the native, and cuter, red squirrel to extinction.

The 19th century British also repeated the Romans's error more exactly by introducing the rabbit to Australia, where it's gone on to devastate the native ecosystem. They also do another kind of damage there that is much more surprising:

Aviation wildlife strike statistics released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau show rabbits and hares accounted for 82 of the 257 reported plane collisions with animals between 2002 and 2009 - the highest for any non-winged creature.

The bureau said animal strikes were relatively rare but when they did occur they could result in severe damage.


-Think of the children:

And speaking of squirrels: why do we let these sex maniacs run around on the streets where innocent children can see them? The females of those cute red squirrels, for instance, will mate with a dozen males a day if they can, and they don't care if they're relatives - doing it with their own fathers or brothers is OK with them.

A recent study
tried to figure out the reason for this behavior. Did it evolve because it helped their reproductive success? Nope, scientists concluded: females will mate with as many males as they can for no reason except "because they're there."


-Second-hand smoke:

Even this blog has to admit that rats make excellent pets. They're personable and intelligent, and if you're easily bored, don't worry - they don't live too long.

But as with any pet, training is important: as one woman in England found after a fire in her apartment:

When Nelly Banks saw her rat’s cage burst into flames, she never expected to see her beloved pet again.

But she got quite a shock when the rascal rodent ran around on the floor – after sparking a full scale 999 alert.

Nelly’s pet – called No Name – stole a smouldering cigarette butt from her ashtray and took it to bed with him.

But the cigarette continued to smoulder, set fire to her cage and left her entire flat on Westminster Road, Morecambe, smoke-logged.

The 43-year-old has no idea how the rat made the miracle escape. She said: “He is a little pincher, he is always taking stuff and hiding it and this time he took one of my cigarettes and put it into his cage which is obviously flammable.

“He had beer cans and bits of paper and all sorts in there, so it did not take much to send it up."

So don't forget: if you're going to allow cute little furry animals into your home, teach them not to smoke in bed.



Cover of a classic horror story by Flickr user snigl3t.

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