The Limerick Snake Hawk

Extract from Animals Evolution Avoided

Legend has it that St Patrick removed all the snakes from Ireland. This theory has no real basis in fact. What’s more likely is that snakes were hunted to extinction by the highly efficient raptor called the Limerick Snake Hawk, the last of which died in Dublin Zoo in 1926 having survived on a diet of long, thin sausages for twenty years.

The snake hawk was the same size as today’s peregrine falcon although its plumage was dark brown. It was thought the colouring enabled it to blend in with the peat bogs. This hawk rarely flew above its prey to dive down to catch it. From the way the last hawk hunted the sausages as they were dragged along the ground by a greyhound, it’s thought the hawk was able to pick up the trail of a snake and then fly on ahead to ambush the snake, hence the need to blend into the background. Hunting in this manner meant the hawk would never pounce on sticks or small branches from a great height and hurt its talons. Once the snake was caught, the hawk would grip the reptile by the tail and swing it against either a tree or a rock, knocking it unconscious before taking its next meal back to the nest.

The Limerick Snake Hawk was a consummate hunter. At the zoo, the last surviving hawk never missed the sausages as they passed by, even when they were tied to the fastest greyhound. Scientists believe that if the hawk had maintained even a 60% kill rate in its hunting, instead of 100%, the species would have survived to this day. It’s ironic that a species, famed for their hunting skills, should become a victim of their own success.

The Maple Reindeer

Extract from Animals Evolution Avoided

50,000 years ago when the land bridge between what is now Russia and what is now Canada was still in existence, large numbers of Kamchatka Reindeer came across to North America and split in two different directions. Some reindeer, who preferred a West-coast lifestyle, migrated almost due south and swam across the shallow channels separating the mainland from the Queen Charlotte Islands where they lived until the early 1900s. The other group, who preferred a more sheltered existence, headed due east and settled in the forests of Maple covering most of northern Canada.

These Maple Reindeer lived almost exclusively on a diet of maple leaves and maple syrup, which the animals licked from the bark of the trees. The maple taste ensured their meat became a delicacy amongst the First Nations bands of the area. The meat was flavourful when cooked and could be eaten easily without requiring sharp implements to cut it. The indigenous peoples hunted sensibly and preserved the numbers of reindeer at manageable levels. At one time, first nations’ chroniclers reported that herds of Maple Reindeer could take two hours to run past a certain spot.

Sadly, the numbers of Maple Reindeer declined rapidly once European settlers came to Canada and hunted the reindeer unmercilessly. The last reindeer died in 1876. Settlers tried to simulate the taste and texture of the meat by soaking beef in maple syrup, but this resulted in a sickly sweet, chewy texture that only really satisfied people who were used to chewing tobacco and wanted a sweet-tasting alternative that wasn’t addictive.

 

The Mambutterfly

Extract from Animals Evolution Avoided

The Mambutterfly is the name given to large elephant-size creatures found in the Siberian permafrost, which had multi-coloured coats as opposed to the single-colour coats of their cousins the Mammoth.

The Mambutterflies fed on mosses, lichens, and other vegetation that contained powerful colouring agents, which changed the colour of their coat. These colouring agents came from the rock the plants grew on. These rocks contained copper, zinc, and mercury. Plants growing on rock containing copper gave the mambutterfly’s coat red-brown colours; plants growing on zinc deposits gave the mambutterfly’s coat blue colours, and plants growing on rocks containing mercury stained the mambutterfly’s coat a silvery-grey colour.

As a result, most mambutterflies were a mixture of blue, red, and silver, which meant they stood out against the tundra in the winter and against the grasslands in the summer. The coats of the mambutterflies were highly prized by the early humans in the region as each coat’s elaborate patterns were unique and couldn’t be copied by a human eye. For this reason, scientists believe the mambutterflies were hunted almost to extinction. Eventually, the remaining creatures journeyed north, far away from the grasslands and the humans found there, to the northern coast of Russia on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

This migration meant their diet changed slightly and they started to eat mosses that were growing on granite and other rocks, which contained fewer metals. Consequently, the coats of the mambutterflies turned black. It’s believed the creatures suffered from anxiety at the loss of their beautifully coloured coats and headed back south to try and regain their former glory. These annual journeys between south and north are the first known migrations of animals.

40 Humourous British Traditions – Cat Chasing

This is an extract from my book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Barton-in-the-Beans is a village in the county of Leicestershire in the heart of England. In the Middle Ages it was believed that there were more cats in the village than in any other village or town in the country. This could only mean one thing in those times: witches. Lots of them.

There was no lake near the village. The local chalk soil drained easily so even after heavy rain no large puddles formed. Thus deprived of his best known method of determining who was a witch, the local Witchfinder-General Roger Boydell hit upon a novel method for searching out the local witches.

He determined that witches are very attached to their cats; at the equinoxes and the solstices he told his henchmen to round up all the village cats and place them into a large pen. At his signal, a man would allow three of the creatures to escape from the pen. These cats would be chased by the Witchfinder-General’s fitter cronies around the village. If any woman chased after the man chasing her cat, especially on a broomstick, she was determined to be a witch and sent off to Leicester for burning on the High Cross.

This tradition lasted for 400 years, comfortably outlasting the role of Witchfinder-General by over 300 years. In the mid-20th Century, as people became aware of diets and exercise, it was noticed that the cats of Barton-in-the-Beans were the leanest, fittest, and most athletic cats in the whole county.

This is an extract from my book 40 Humourous British Traditions