By Bernie Bell
Reading an item in TON, about who eats what, and why https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/08/31/what-if-your-food-started-talking-back/ got me thinking about …predators. And I thought I’d put together some bits and pieces – thoughts and exchanges I’ve had over the years, on natural predators, un-natural predators, and how the creatures which predate humans, have changed over the millennia.
I’ll start with something about a genuine, real, needs-to-be predator – The Hawk. In Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘The Wild Places’, he writes of going out with someone he knows to ‘hunt’ with a hawk. What happened was………..
The tiercel was hunting partridges. The partridges took cover. The humans flushed them from their cover. The tiercel killed one.
This made me wince. Imagine it. You are being hunted, you find a hiding place, but are flushed from it by something bigger than you – something you can’t ignore. You are then out in the open – easy prey.
Hawks need to eat, yes, but what was all that about? What it was for? Three humans, who, these days, don’t need to hunt, taking a bird, which is a captive bird, out, to kill other birds. To use birds as pawns in this human game, as though they are ‘things’…………….?
Maybe I could be said to be over-sensitive, but, that tale made me wince.
Predators, need to prey, in nature, but that scene, was not natural.
I took this up with Mr Mac, and we had the following exchange……….………
Mr Mac……..“Yes. Definitely a scene to wince at. It was partly there – mostly there – though to acknowledge exactly the unnatural, the unwild, the weird entanglements of epitome-of-the-wild peregrine, which has been trained to kill by millennia of evolution but also years of human contact. I didn’t only want to write about some pure dream of the wild, valuable though I think that is occasionally (mostly it’s duplicitous). But I also wince on reading that scene again…”
Me ………..”Yes, having a daft idea of what’s ‘wild’ is as mistaken as having an ‘everything is beautiful and nothing hurts’ idea. People like to dream of flying with hawk, or diving with otter, but they could also try hiding with partridge, or rabbit, or any of the other little creatures. In ‘The Once and Future King’, TH White has Arthur being a small fish, hiding from the big, powerful Pike. That’s how he learns his lessons.
Here’s a tale – we used to live in Suffolk, and, one day I went out into our garden, to find our neighbour, in her garden, fuming because a sparrow-hawk had killed a pigeon, in her garden. She referred to “Ghastly bloody raptors.” I countered with the fact that there are an awful lot of pigeons, not so many sparrow-hawks, and the hawk’s gotta eat. A free, wild hawk, needs its dinner – eats pigeon – fair enough. That doesn’t make me wince – it’s natural.”
A thought, re. man being a predator ‘natural’… or otherwise………..
Problem is, we used to have predators, too. Now, in many places, we don’t. So – there are too many of us. Our predators, have shrunk. Instead of being the biggest, strongest beasties, it’s often the bacteria and viruses, they’re the ones that can cut us down, now. And, of course, ourselves. Now and then, we cut out whole swathes of each other. That’s when we become un-natural predators.
Mostly, though, we are a predator, without predators………….. not ones that we can see coming, anyway.
The predators, have got smaller. Clever predators.
One of their purposes could be said to be to regulate populations – though modern medicine is combating that to some extent – they are still one of our main predators, now. And so….there are too many people, and the planet is reaching over-load. Various factors used to ‘thin us out’ a bit – a lot sometimes, but those factors have less and less strength, while we develop other, more efficient, ways of wiping ourselves out. Foolish predators.
Many microscope life forms can be deadly, but quite beautiful under a microscope – quite beautiful anyway, it’s just that we can’t usually see them.
This is an image of the Ebola virus…………..
I have the idea that, when/if our society goes kaput, what will survive will be – cockroaches, they are amazing survivors and can survive on all kinds of crap. Fungi – there are spores out in space, which might survive and come to earth again. And….rats – amazing survivors and adapters – they’ll eat just about anything.
As with the fungal spores, there are said to be viruses out in space . I tend to have it in for viruses because they cause so much trouble, but there are some, such as bacteriophages which can be beneficial, as they feed on bacteria. A micro-predator, which feeds on micro-predators! And, both viruses and bacteria, adapt, and so, survive, and carry on predating.
We have a tiny, wee predator, living on our living room window sill. It’s a small black spider, who has built an intricate web, with a tunnel in it. The spider, sits in the tunnel, and, when it feels something caught in the web, comes out and feeds. I didn’t have the heart to clear the web away. I’ll wait until the spider’s dead, or moves away, then I’ll dust. Any excuse not to dust!
There are other spiders in the house, mostly the long-leggedy ones. I wonder how they make a living, but then I see the empty woodlouse husks.
More successful predators, on a small scale.
Made me chuckle Bernie but it did remind of one fine day in Wester Ross when I spotted a Golden Eagle circling very high then it dived like a Ju87, Stuka Dive-Bomber, pulling-up at the last minute with a rabbit in its talons – what a wonderful sight. If a normal aeroplane dived and pulled-up like that eagle did the wings would have come off!!!
And Gannets – dive-bombing………………..
You are right I always enjoy time on deck when using the P&O Fast Ferry, Troon to Larne as it passes close to ‘Paddy’s Milestone’ or to the uninitiated Ailsa Craig and watching the Gannets in an almost hover then with its wings folded plummeting into the water like a dart then re-emerging fish in beak but it was the way that such a large bird could surface and regain flight speed, aye a remarkable and beautiful sea bird.
I love your excuse not to dust …..nature needs predators
Good article Bernie. I admit I wince more than many at all the nasty bits in nature. Including when people mindlessly splat a spider or wasp because they don’t like them or kick at pigeons because they think them vermin or find them a nuisance. It’s said that those who have suffered, understand and hate others suffering the most. That figures. As for bird eating bird etc, I accept, all things have to eat and nature has apparantly designed us all predate each other. However, anyone who enjoys hunting, or causing suffering or death to any creature purposely for ‘sport’ has I think, got a mental defect -or is plain nasty. Humans, (and there are far too many of us), are largely a real nuisance to the rest of life on the planet, therefore we are culled now and then, by whatever means nature decides, to reduce us, wether or not we agree with it’s choice of who dies, or natures method. Right now of course we have covid 19.