Run, Molly, Run! A True Animal Escape Story

True Animal Escape Stories

Police capture Molly the heifer

A 6-month-old heifer was being delivered to a slaughterhouse near New York City when she made a bold dash for freedom.  Sensing that her life was in danger, she broke through a passageway between the cattle trailer and cow pens as workers were unloading animals.  Then she ran like the wind.

Eluding capture, she broke through a fence and took to the city streets.  The slaughterhouse workers chasing her couldn’t keep up. The pursuers called 911 for police back-up.  The calf made it about a mile through quiet neighborhoods before she was cornered by police officers in a fenced area between two houses.

After a van was brought to the site, the calf was led aboard and taken to an animal shelter in Brooklyn, where she spent the night.  By the next morning, shelter workers had given her a name—Molly.  Determined to save Molly, the shelter staff called farms in New York that rescued food animals.

The phone crew found the perfect place—a 60-acre organic farm where rescued cows, pigs, chickens and other animals live in comfort and didn’t have to worry about ending up on someone’s dinner plate.

When Molly arrived, she was fed fresh organic hay, given clean water, and put in a stall with a gentle bull named Wexler.  Molly and Wexler were free to go in and out of the barn into their own grassy pasture.

The owners of the farm, Rex and Connie Farr, rescue farm animals on a regular basis.  One day, a neighbor drove up with six crates stuffed with young chickens that had fallen from a truck crossing a bridge.  The chickens stayed on at the farm as permanent residents.  Another day, a 4-H club brought the Farrs a pony that their group no longer had money to keep.

Wexler, Molly’s boyfriend, came from a private school. He was part of an animal education program.  When the program was shut down, the school asked the Farrs to give Wexler a home.  Rex and Connie Farr also take care of goats, burros and other animals.

When reporters interviewed Rex Farr, he said, “Molly can eat and sleep here for the rest of her life. She’s not going anywhere. With us she’ll have a very good home.”

What about the cattle farmer who lost over $400 in the deal?  He said, “Molly is a gift from me.”   Maybe he figured that an animal as courageous and smart as Molly deserved her freedom.

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My Three Monkeys—Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary

I don’t actually own three monkeys. I sponsor them at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, just north of Gainesville. It all started in 1998 when I visited the sanctuary and met Kari Bagnall, the founder. She’d opened Jungle Friends a year earlier after a successful career as a decorator in Las Vegas. She brought 13 rescued monkeys with her to central Florida and intended to to devote her life to primate rescue.

Two weeks before I met my first monkey, Cappy—a capuchin in his thirties—Kari found him an outdoor crate near Las Vegas, where he’d been exposed to all weather.  He was near death. Formerly, he’d been the long-time pet of an elderly woman who had been put in a nursing home. Cappy was lucky to survive the plane trip to Florida.

The day I met Cappy, he screamed with delight as I approached his mesh enclosure.  Perhaps I reminded him of his former owner.  He extended his little hand toward me through the wire, wanting to touch me. I was smitten. Our friendship grew over the years. As soon as Cappy spotted me crossing the property and walking toward his habitat, he began making happy cries and reaching through the mesh.  While I always brought his favorite treats, his first priority was our greeting ritual.  Only when he settled down to soft, sweet “woo-woo” sounds would he accept the grapes, bananas, or peanuts I brought.

Cappy was later joined by Puchi, another capuchin. Puchi had been picked up by police on a freeway outside Chicago—badly burned and in need of medical care. Apparently he’d escaped from a residential fire.  Unable to locate his owners, wildlife authorities made arrangements for his transfer to Jungle Friends in Florida. When I met Puchi, he was pretty banged up.  Besides his other problems, he had an infected eye that eventually had to be removed.

Cappy and Puchi were a good match. Cappy, the big brother, doted on Puchi—grooming him so much that most of the hair not burned off in the fire was plucked off. Cappy taught Puchi to treat me like a VIP, so now I had two monkeys greeting me with joyful screams. Because I worried that Puchi’s disfigurement might discourage other sponsors, he became my second adopted monkey.

A year later Cappy and Puchi welcomed a third capuchin, Lucy.  Suffering from advanced cancer, Lucy was frail and very sick. But at Cappy’s side, she glowed with pleasure as he groomed her, picking through her hair for whatever it is monkeys find there. Now I had Lucy to consider, too.  Who is going to sponsor a monkey dying of cancer?  I decided it would be me.

One morning after the trio had been together for several months, Kari called me with a heavy voice.  Lucy had a seizure, she said, and died suddenly.  Not only that—Cappy died about an hour later of a heart attack. The stress of Lucy’s last throes must have been fatal for him. I was prepared for Lucy’s death but not Cappy’s. I went through my days stunned for a long time.

The deaths of Cappy and Lucy were much harder for Puchi, who’d lost his monkey family in the space of a few hours.  During the weeks of finding himself alone, Puchi poked around his habitat listlessly.  The Jungle Friends staff went out of their way to cheer him up and I visited more often, bringing his favorite treats. Puchi’s spirits remained low until Kari placed him with two other capuchins—Chi-Chi, a former circus monkey, and Wendell, a refugee from a sanctuary unable to treat his severe medical problems.  Currently all three monkeys, in their thirties, live together happily and in good health.

Becoming a sponsor has allowed me to make friends with monkeys without owning them as pets—a move that almost always ends in tragedy. Visiting Cappy, Puchi and Lucy and following their lives, they became part of mine. Every time I visit the sanctuary, I walk around the beautiful habitats that house more than one hundred healthy, happy capuchins and other monkey species. They scamper through trees and shrubs, swing on ropes, and run through overhead passages from one habitat to the other. These happy monkeys once led miserable lives of confinement and ill treatment as circus performers, breeding stock for exotic pet traders, laboratory subjects, and pets of disenchanted owners.

Monkey sponsorship costs as little as ten dollars a month. Information about how to join the Jungle Friends community of sponsors is available at

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Dholes–The Asian Wild Dog

Dhole, Wild Dog

Dhole, Asian Wild Dog

Dholes, a handsome breed of wild dog native to Asia, are divided into subspecies. One type has white fur around the muzzle, on its chest and in its ears. The other is reddish brown all over .  Dholes weigh about the same as border collies but their bodies are leaner and their legs longer.  The dhole is a trim, muscular dog.

Dhole of Asia

Dhole Dozing Near Den Entrance

Also known as the Asian Wild Dog, the dhole prefers to live in dense scrub or forests.  The dogs make their homes in dens—often holes vacated by hyenas and porcupines.  They improve the construction, digging tunnels and adding one or more entrances.  The dens may be located under or between rocks, in heavy underbrush, or on the banks of dry rivers or creeks.

The front door of the den is usually almost vertical. The tunnel behind it takes a sharp turn after three or four feet.  Some dens have several entrances and many connecting tunnels.  These dwellings become more elaborate over the years, as the dholes improve and enlarge them. Their living quarters are often the work of many generations, shared by the entire clan. Females give birth to their litters in the chambers of the den and raise them there.

Dholes have a complicated repertoire of sounds for communicating with each other.  Sometimes they whistle or make cooing noises to coordinate their movements through thick brush. Other sounds include whining for food, growling as sign of aggression, yapping, and chattering as a warning signal (for a video, click here). When dholes attack a prey animal, they make a screaming sound. Unlike many other wild dogs, dholes do not howl.

Dhole Couple

Dhole Pair

Their body language is complex, too. A friendly greeting involves pulling back the lips as though smiling, lowering the tail, and licking. The dogs show submission the same way. When dholes want to play, they assume a play bow. Angry or aggressive dholes open their jaws slightly while pulling their lips back and snarling. The hair on their backs stands up, as well.  When they’re afraid, they tuck their tails beneath their bodies and flatten their ears.

A dhole pack gets excited just before an early morning hunting trip, nuzzling each other and rubbing bodies. When they spot a prey animal, they work as a team—each with an assigned role.  One or more dholes lead the chase while the rest keep up a steadier pace behind. The dogs aren’t fast runners, but they have stamina and can keep going for hours.  When the lead dogs get tired, those trailing behind move up and take over. Dholes often drive prey animals to a body of water where their swimming skills and ability to leap high into the air give them the advantage.

Tien Shan Mountains

Tien Shan Mountain Range

While dholes prey on deer, wild boar, water buffalo and other large animals, they also eat plants and fruit.  They enjoy various kinds of grasses, herbs and leaves. One of their favorite foods is mountain rhubarb, found in the Tien Shan mountain range (photo).

(To watch dogs at a watering hole, click here)

On rare occasions, dholes attack tigers. Tigers—fearing these determined canines—climb a tree or stand with their backs to it.  If they maintain their defensive stance, the tigers have a good chance of survival. If they try to escape, they’re usually killed. While dholes will take on a tiger, they are cautious about it—knowing that the big cat has enough strength to kill one of them with a single paw strike.

The few people who have tried to raise dholes in captivity have found it difficult.  The dogs are nearly impossible to tame, although they may play with domestic dogs while they’re still pups. (To watch dhole pups at play click here). When captive dholes reach adulthood, they usually become too aggressive to trust around other animals.

Dholes live to be about ten years old in the wild, but may survive as long as sixteen years in captivity.Dhole Range Map

South American Bush Dog–Smallest of the Wild Dogs

The smallest of the wild dogs is the South American bush dog, weighing in at less than 15 pounds.  No bigger than a terrier, it has a solid little body and short legs. The bush dog is built low to the ground so it can dart through the underbrush of the rainforest without being seen.

The problem with their small stature is that bush dogs can’t even see each other in tall grass and thick bushes. They make up for this with a repertoire of grunts, squeaks, whines and growls that carry over long distances at ground level. They “talk” almost constantly, telling each other where they are and what they’re doing. Bush dogs also mark their paths of travel with frequent urine marking.

Bush dogs have soft, reddish brown fur.  With their short ears, round heads and blunt noses, they look more like weasels than dogs. When a bush dog jumps into the water, it looks like an otter, paddling with its webbed feet.  Bush dogs dive underwater like experts and swim with their eyes open to catch fish, turtles, and other water animals. Because of this ability, they usually live near rivers. To watch a video of bush dogs catching a turtle  click here.

Holes vacated by armadillos and other burrowing animals often become the homes of bush dogs. Others move into hollow logs. If they can’t find anything ready-made, bush dogs dig their own dens (photo).

Hunting together during the day, a pack of bush dogs fans out over the forest floor. Occasionally they hunt alone, listening and sniffing their way along. As a pack, they work together so intelligently that they can bring down prey as large as peccaries and tapirs—some weighing over 500 pounds.

When a bush dog pair has pups, other adults in the pack stop mating.  This allows the group to focus on one litter at a time. For several weeks, the babies stay hidden in their den.  The extended family makes sure no predators get close. When the pups finally emerge, pack members share the job of protecting and feeding them.  Their aunts and uncles carry them in their mouths just like their parents do.

As the pups outgrow nursing, pack members bring them food–chewing it first and then transferring it to the babies’ mouths.  The pups paw at the muzzles of the adults to them know they’re hungry.

Among the friendliest of the wild dogs, bush dogs greet each other joyfully after a separation, wagging their stubby tails. They sleep close to each other (click here), travel in an orderly way (single file), and rarely fight over anything. The packs have no clear ladder of dominance the way other wild dogs do. They treat each other as equals. It’s hard to say who’s running things in a bush dog pack.

Little is known about these secretive animals because they stay so well hidden in the rainforests of South America, mainly in Brazil. Much of our knowledge of their behavior comes from zoos helping to preserve the species in captivity. Zoo staff find them friendly and sociable, much like pet dogs. As of 2010, the American public could see bush dogs in only five city zoos—Oklahoma City, Palm Beach, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Little Rock.

The Dingo Dog–Wild Dog of Australia

Australians are proud of their dingo dogs. The species is unique to their homeland and is rarely, if ever, found elsewhere.

Normally, dingoes live in the Outback–a vast arid region covering most of inland Australia.  They avoid human settlements.  In times of drought, however, the dogs are forced to migrate in search of water and food, taking them into areas populated by humans. Since sheep and cattle ranches are so common in Australia, many dingoes end up on ranch land.  This has given them a taste for livestock, especially sheep.  Sheep are easy marks because they seldom run away. Instead, they huddle in groups, undefended.

Understandably, most sheep ranchers have zero tolerance for dingo dogs. Because the dogs also feed on dead livestock killed by other predators, they’re sometimes blamed for deaths they didn’t cause.  When dingoes are hungry enough to wander into towns and villages, they scavenge from garbage cans and even kill pets—a practice that earns them no friends, either.

On the other hand, some ranchers have befriended dingoes, using them as working dogs. Owners say they’re as tame as domestic dogs when raised by humans.  Dingoes are smart and friendly, though they can get touchy during breeding season. Sheep ranchers who use them for herding report that their dingoes never attack sheep. Dingoes take their jobs seriously and obey commands well. Some families keep dingoes in their homes and find them to be good pets. (The practice is illegal in some parts of Australia.)

The person lucky enough to spot a dingo in the wild usually sees the dog traveling alone. While they belong to small family groups, the members seldom meet unless it’s mating season. Then they spend most of their time together breeding and raising pups.

Dingo packs have clear territories and avoid the ranges of other dingoes.  Each pack is fierce about protecting its own range. An unfamiliar dingo who wanders into their territory is likely to be attacked and killed. This seldom happens, though, because unrelated groups are careful to avoid each other. Dingoes rarely fight with members of their own pack.

Dingoes are excellent hunters, working out their tactics ahead of time. At least two lead dogs are responsible for locating a target—a kangaroo, wallaby or smaller animal.  They chase their prey to a place where other pack members are waiting in ambush. With their agility and skill, they know how to steer a prey animal just where they want it.  Those lying in wait are good at cornering the animal by dodging this way and that.

Dingoes “talk” to each other by howling, whining, and sometimes growling.  (To watch a dingo howl click this link. They growl for the same reasons pet dogs to—as a warning. Unlike other dog species, they bark very little—and then only to indicate aggressive intent. Sometimes the bark is followed by a long howl that rises and falls. They also howl to show affection when they greet each other.

The government of Australia classified dingoes as an endangered species in 2004—a step toward protecting them as a form of wildlife found only in Australia. Some wildlife experts say that it’s impossible to preserve the species in purebred form because dingoes have already interbred too widely with pet dogs.  Interbreeding started as far back as the 1800s when immigrant families brought their dogs from Europe. Over the years, many of their pets escaped or were let go.  A large number joined dingo packs. As the dogs mated and raised litters, the numbers of dingo hybrids multiplied.

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The Painted Dog–Wild Dog of Africa

The wild dog of Africa is best known as the Painted Dog. You can see why.  With their bright spots and big round ears, these dogs can’t be missed as they travel in packs through the savannah. Another term for them is the Cape Hunting Dog. Their stride and confidence say, “Don’t mess with us.”  For a video (without bloodshed), click here (Wild Dog Pack).

Painted Dogs are fierce enemies, but within the pack they are gentle as lambs. They like to nuzzle and brush against each other. When one gets sick, the rest nurse it back to health. They cooperate in raising litters of pups. After a successful hunt, Painted Dogs save some meat to carry home to the puppies, adults who stayed behind babysitting, and sick or injured pack members.

Life in the wild is dangerous so they take good care of each other. They don’t fight over females.  When two of them have their eyes on the same morsel of food, the competition takes a strange form.  They try to outdo each other in their begging performance.  Each puts on such a pitiful display of hunger that eventually one gives in and walks away.

The intelligence of Painted Dogs and their ability to carry out complicated hunting strategies pays off.  At least eighty percent of their hunts end in a kill—a much higher rate than that of most African predators.  Lions are lucky to bring down prey thirty percent of the time.  In fact, they often steal carcasses from Painted Dogs.

Painted Dog packs are large and need space.  With Africans taking over more land for ranching, some dogs have developed a taste for farm animals—a habit that has backfired on them. Farmers now hunt and kill Painted Dogs. The dogs also pick up diseases from farm dogs. An outbreak of rabies, distemper or parvo can threaten the lives of an entire pack.

The African Painted Dogs are among the most intelligent dogs in the world. They don’t rely on instinct alone to tell them what to do. They depend on knowledge that has been passed from generation to generation.  This includes information about hunting strategies, the best places to find water and food, and the dangers that surround them.

The wild dogs of Africa are an endangered species.  Once there were over half a million. Now there are fewer than 5000.  Painted Dogs can still be found in the countries shown on the map. Because they need such large ranges, they are hard to raise in captivity.

Raccoon Dogs–Wild Dogs of Asia

Doesn’t this look like a raccoon?

The animal in the photo isn’t even related to a raccoon.  It’s called–you guessed it–a raccoon dog.  It belongs to a species discovered in the cold regions of Asia more than two hundred years ago.

In the 1800s, Chinese trappers realized the economic potential of raccoon dogs. Their lush winter fur made great overcoats.  Traders began to hunt and trap the dogs, then export their fur. Soon, Russian entrepreneurs decided to obtain some raccoon dogs from Asia and breed them for the same purpose. Before long, other eastern European countries followed suit.

These wild dogs are about the same size as terriers but their weight fluctuates throughout the year.  In the spring, they’re at their lightest.  In summer, they start fattening up in preparation for winter—just as bears do.  Those still living in the wild spend the coldest months of the year dozing in dens and living off stored fat. Their fur thickens to help them conserve body heat.

Raccoon dogs are the only dogs that hibernate.  They don’t sleep as deeply as bears, but they slumber off and on when the snow is deep or the weather is particularly harsh.  As the skies clear and temperatures warm up, they leave their dens to hunt for food.

These little dogs are easy-going and seldom fight.  When a predator frightens them, they scream or play dead. Occasionally, male raccoon dogs courting the same female get into skirmishes, but they rarely do much damage.

They eat almost anything.  The protein in their diet comes from insects, rodents, frogs, birds, and even dead animals.  Because they swim well, fish are also on the menu.  Raccoon dogs living near water look for water bird eggs and chicks. The dogs like plant foods, too–fruit, pumpkins, tomatoes, nuts, and grain.  In Japan they’ve been seen climbing trees with their curved claws and picking fruit.  They often raid gardens, vineyards, and grain fields. Click on this link to watch a raccoon dog feeding in the wild. (free dinner).

Although raccoon dogs aren’t allowed in the U.S., many Europeans keep them as pets. They find the dogs easy to live with and safe with children. However, they can’t be trusted around gerbils or other small animals.  Feeding them is cheap as they eat almost anything.

When householders are at work, the dogs seldom get into mischief around the house, because they sleep most of the day. However, families who allow the dogs outside must take precautions to make their yards escape-proof. Raccoon dogs are expert diggers and make holes under fences.

The only thing owners complain of is how much raccoon dogs shed every spring.  As the weather warms up, the dogs get rid of their thick winter fur—which collects in large tufts around the house.

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More on Blind Dogs

A few weeks ago, my 9-year-old beagle-chihuahua mix, Trudy, went blind from sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome (SARDS)—(see my earlier blogs). Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time on internet message boards such as and

Recently, a woman posted a message about her 5-year-old pug with SARDS.  She wrote: “He went from being extremely active and playful to very lethargic, frightened and since it has been about 3 months, some days navigates (slowly) his way around with caution and others, is completely discombobulated and will stay in a corner someplace. Sometimes when I carry him and put him down every so gently, he seems unfrightened and other times he stiffens up and is terrified. I did buy endless black rounded foam rubber that is put on pipes for insulation, and covered every single leg of all furniture, including outdoors. This has helped his poor little head a great deal…I can’t stop crying for my little guy.”

When Trudy lost her sight, I did endless research online about about the causes, symptoms and treatment of SARDS. I took her to the Dept of Ophthalmology, University of Florida vet school, for confirmation of my primary veterinarian’s findings, and then to the Internal Medicine Department for endocrine testing. I learned that most dogs afflicted with SARDS also have the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome (excessive thirst, lots of peeing and accidents in the house, bloated abdomen, panting, etc.)

When I’d found all I could about the disease and had taken Trudy on the rounds of veterinary experts, I still had a lot to learn about adjustment to Trudy’s vision loss.  I learned to avoid being solicitous and pitying. I didn’t jump to do the things she was having trouble with. If she couldn’t find the door, I’d say, “Over here, Trudy,” and let her follow the sound of my voice.  I didn’t point out a food scrap that had just fallen on the floor. I let her nose do its work.  The amazing thing is that Trudy is more energetic than I’ve seen her for years, and we’re a stronger team. Here are a few of the simple things I’ve done.

1) I take her outside out to pee every couple of hours so she doesn’t have to slink off in the house to do it in secret. I praise her lavishly when she “goes.” She looks quite pleased with herself.

2) Every morning I continue taking her on our usual run—me on my electric bike and her running alongside. We’ve traveled the same route for years–a stretch of 1/3 mile in my neighborhood where there’s almost no traffic. Now she seems to sense the distance between us by the sound of the bike motor.  If I see something on the road, I yell, “Watch it, Trudy!”—always using the same words and tone of voice. For a short video, go to Trudy’s morning run.

3) I play with her more often, my object being to get her to wag her tail.

4) When she sneaks up on the dining room table and I hear dishes clattering, I no longer yell, “Get off of there, Trudy!” at the top of my lungs. I think, but don’t say, “Well, yay for you, Trudy. You’ve still got the old spunk.” Then I clean up the mess, saying quietly, “No, Trudy.” Which, of course, she ignores.

5) Rather than feed her in the house from a bowl, I wrap a ball of canned dog food in chopped dry food. I call her, making a big deal of it, and say, “Hey Trude! “Meal-time, kiddo!” I roll the ball across the big wooden deck outside. Her nose finds its way to the food, her tail wags the whole time, and she eats it with relish. She loves this. What dog wouldn’t? Their DNA tells them that this is how REAL dogs find their food.

Trudy is a happy dog again. My advice to the owners of newly blind dogs is this–don’t show your sadness to your dog. If you have to cry, go off by yourself. Don’t let pity creep into your voice when you talk to the dog. Praise every little new accomplishment. Blind dogs can be exposed to interesting new experiences in a gentle way, without frightening them. Laugh and play. Dogs making the difficult passage into blindness need an upbeat view of life.

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The Maned Wolf– Wild Dog of South America

The maned wolf of South America is not a wolf at all, but a wild dog–but  it looks like a cross between a wolf and a fox.  Maned wolves live in open grasslands, on the edges of forests or in the marshlands of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.

Taller than any other wild dogs, maned wolves stand on long legs that allow them to spot prey over expanses of tall grass. Their height also helps them see approaching danger. Like many wild animals with manes, the dogs can make their fur can stand on end, making them look bigger and more threatening to enemies.

These wild dogs eat small and medium-sized animals, including rodents, rabbits, birds and fish. They turn their large ears this way and that to listen for movements in the grass, then tap the ground with their front feet to flush the prey out. While maned wolves enjoy meat just like other dogs, plants and fruits make up about half their diet. They use their sharp incisor teeth to tear meat and crush plants with their broad, flat molars.

The dogs serve as seed carriers for many of the plants they eat—starting a cycle when they defecate on ant nests.  The ants use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens—later discarding the seeds onto piles just outside the nest. This rich environment promotes germination of the seeds. And so the plants grow to feed the wild dogs once again.

Unlike other wild dogs, maned wolves do not form packs.  They hunt alone, usually in the early evening.  A male and female may share territory but they are seldom together except to mate. Their range is criss-crossed by paths they have made when patrolling at night.  Occasionally small groups of maned wolves do meet at a plentiful food source.

Unfortunately, the maned wolf has earned many enemies because of its nocturnal activities as a chicken thief. Some farmers believe that these dogs also kill cattle and sheep, but this is now known to be untrue.

The Brazilian government has recently classified the maned wolf as an endangered species and has given it legal protection. The dogs suffer from the same loss of habitat that other wild species do.  In addition, some are struck by cars or attacked by domestic dogs.

The maned wolf is a shy animal and poses very little threat to humans.  A number of zoos have bred these dogs successfully, so they are well represented in captivity. Click here to see pups born and raised at the Houston Zoo–Pups at play.

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The Wonderful Banana Spider

Walking on a pier recently in Cedar Key, Florida, my daughter Amy and I spotted a large spider web stretched over the handrails.  A banana spider the size of my hand sat in the middle.  I handed Amy my camera. Not until I transferred the photo to my computer at home did I appreciate the spider’s creation.  Now I’ll think twice before damaging a spider web.

Banana spiders (Nephila) choose locations for their webs where flying insects are likely to get caught. The web is well planned.  First, the spider spins non-sticky silk as a framework.  Then she fills in the gaps with sticky threads to trap her prey. Once a wasp or other insect is caught, the spider quickly wraps it in a silk cocoon. When the package is complete, she takes it to the center of the web where it waits until she’s hungry.  Mostly she catches mosquitoes, flies, wasps, bees, butterflies, moths and grasshoppers.  To watch a banana spider trap a wasp, click this link: Banana spider at work

Parts of the spider’s web may look haphazard, decorated with plant bits and dead insects, but the debris serves a purpose.  When an insect lands in the web, the whole structure vibrates, including the extra bits—letting the banana spider know that dinner is served.  The debris also shields the rest of the web from windblown leaves.  As a bonus, it keeps birds from flying into the web looking for a banana spider to eat.

When an enemy comes near, the spider sets up a vibrating motion in the web to scare the trespasser away.  If that doesn’t work, she uses the web’s pulsating vibration to help her jump to safety.  Or she runs to a single escape strand she’s placed in the web that leads to nearby bushes or grass where she can hide..

Because the spider’s web loses its sticky quality over time, she must repair it often.  Her building materials are sturdy. The silk spun by the banana spider is stronger than Kevlar, a material used to make bulletproof vests.  It has a tensile strength six times that of steel.

Many people think that this large, brightly colored spider is dangerous.  It’s not.  Like most spiders, the banana spider is shy.  People get bitten only if they hold or pinch it.  While the bite hurts, it’s much less severe than a bee sting and the discomfort goes away quickly.  The main symptoms are redness and blistering around the bite, and these are gone in less than 24 hours. However, people with asthma may have an allergic reaction that involves breathing problems.  The bite can also cause muscle cramps.

The banana spider is more a friend than a pest, with her ability to trap and eat biting insects.  The next time you see a banana spider sitting in a large web filled with dead mosquitoes, flies and wasps, you may appreciate what she’s done for you.

Banana spiders are valued by the fishermen along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, who use their webs daily. They shape a banana spider’s web into a ball and throw it in the water, where it unfolds and captures bait fish.

At one time, people hoped to use the spider’s silk to make cloth.  Nothing much came of this, although the American Museum of Natural History has an exhibit of shimmering golden cloth woven from the webs of over one million female banana spiders. The silk was collected and the fabric woven in Madagascar.  The spiders were released after their work was done.

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