What a BeheMoth!

Meet the Giant Wood Moth.

Just when you think you’ve heard of all the weird creatures that inhabit Australia, this one pops up on your news feed.

This is a Giant Wood Moth, and it was found by construction workers at an Australian elementary school. These moths aren’t particularly rare, but it is rare for one to be seen by humans. Needless to say, this moth got a lot of press.

According to the Australian Museum, the females of this species can have a wingspan of nearly ten inches, and they can weigh up to 1/10th of a pound. That certainly isn’t heavy by human standards, but it’s the heaviest moth in the world. The males are much smaller.

To understand how something so big can avoid public scrutiny, you have to understand its life cycle. In the larval state, when they’re called Witchetty Grubs, they bore into the trunks of Eucalyptus trees. They have purple and white bands at this stage, so they’re probably quite stylish, but they’re in the tree trunk, away from prying eyes. They can remain in this stage for up to three years.

When they finally emerge, they’re no longer stripey and they’re slightly less than an inch long and about as thick as a pencil. They lower themselves onto the ground on silk threads and feed on plant roots. They have to put on as much weight as possible, because when they’re adults, they live only for 3 days, and don’t eat anything. The females are so heavy they struggle to fly. They focus on mating and then laying 20,000 eggs before they die. And so the cycle begins again. Isn’t nature grand?

Learning about Giant Wood Moths led me to a strange realization. I have a size limit to what I’m willing to kill with my bare hands. No, I don’t go around killing things at random, just for the heck of it. I do my best to let the web of life weave on. But I have been known to kill bugs that are prone to sucking my blood or spreading disease or injecting me with a toxin. Mosquitos receive no mercy from me, for example.

I can’t really imagine a scenario in which I’d purposely kill a Giant Wood Moth. I suppose if it went rogue and attacked me or something, I might be tempted. But even then, I don’t think I could do it. Killing something that big would be a sensory nightmare. I mean, that would be a substantial squish. You couldn’t even pretend you weren’t committing murder under those circumstances. You’d have to be dedicated to your deed. So thank you, Giant Wood Moth, for helping me to discover that I have limits. That’s a fascinating bit of information.


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The World’s Longest Creature

Nope. It’s not a whale.

I know what you’re thinking. Some type of whale, right? If so, you’d be wrong. You’d also assume that length alone would mean that we have known what the longest creature in the world is for quite some time, because how can something that’s extremely long hide? Again, wrong.

The longest creature ever discovered in the entire world was only just discovered in 2020. This fascinating find probably got lost amongst the political, social, and general insanity that has made up this pandemic year of ours. While that may be understandable, this is rather a big deal, so I figured it was blog-worthy.

This creature is called a siphonophore, and it was discovered off the coast of Western Australia, deep in a canyon near the delightfully named Ningaloo reef. It’s 150 feet long. It’s also a predator.

It’s a fascinating creature, because it’s made of thousands of individuals called zooids that clone themselves and string together. It adds a whole new meaning to the phrase “it takes a village”. Siphonophores hunt by dangling poisonous tentacles that paralyze small creatures that come in contact with them.

According to this website, there are 175 different types of siphonophores that we know of, including the Portuguese Man O’ War. Because of their colonial development, most are really fragile and break apart easily. But since the zooids in each siphonophore colony all came from a single fertilized egg, it’s still one creature which has cloned itself so that various zooids have different functions. Pretty freaky, no?

Even more interesting is that the gigantic siphonophore in question was stumbled upon by a research team that wasn’t specifically looking for it. They found so many amazing things on this expedition that this long guy was just the tip of the iceberg. Check out this article, and particularly the second video therein, to see some of the otherworldly creatures they found. Then check out this article for even more details.

If I had my life to do over again, I’d love to be a marine biologist. We’ve barely pierced the depths of the ocean. It’s an exciting unknown, just like outer space, but it’s teeming with weird and wonderful life that is definitely going to be encountered within the next few decades. How exciting!

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Finally, a Feel-Good Story from the Australian Fires

It’s the people already giving 110 percent who step up.

My heart has been breaking for Australia since the latest bush fires started in September. I can’t even imagine the extent of the utter devastation. It’s said that more than half the koala population has died. And they are but one of the unique Australian mammals that have been disastrously affected.

Fortunately, rain has finally, finally taken hold, and it looks like these fires have done their worst. At least, for now. But when will we start taking Global Warming seriously? What are we waiting for? I hope it’s not too late. That’s a subject for another post.

But I did want to share one feel-good story that has arisen, phoenix-like, from the ashes. It seems that some soldiers from the 9th Brigade of the Australian Army that were deployed to battle these fires have been volunteering during their rest periods (read more here). They have been helping to feed and comfort injured koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park. (And it’s an organization well worth supporting. Just saying.)

It always amazes me when people who are already giving 110 percent to mitigate a tragedy then step up to do even more. They’re the ones who volunteer. They’re the ones who ask how they can help. The people who are already exhausted and discouraged and on the ragged edge from their efforts. They rise.

That is what I love about humanity in general. That intangible thing that makes some of us go above and beyond. That integrity. That strength. That valor.

We all have it within us to be heroes. That goes beyond our gender or our nationality or our politics or our religion. It’s a quality that we can choose to nurture or cast aside.

Here’s hoping enough of us make the right choices to make a difference in this very pivotal point in human history.


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Mid-Month Marvels: Knits for Nature

Who doesn’t love a penguin in a sweater?

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

I absolutely love it when a solution to a problem is also fun, and in this case, cute as all get out.

Knits for Nature came about because the Penguin Foundation on Phillip Island in Australia was struggling to save area penguins from multiple oil spills. It seems the oil would coat their dense feathers, and the penguins would preen, ingest the oil, and die. Heartbreaking.

The foundation did its best to wash the oil from these poor creatures, but it’s a painstaking process, and a little penguin line would inevitably form. While they waited, they preened and… well, you get the picture. So someone got the idea that if they wore little penguin sweaters while they waited, they wouldn’t be able to get to their feathers, and they’d be kept warm to boot. Brilliant.

So now you can actually volunteer to knit a sweater for a penguin. These sweaters must be a specific design, and not have any adornment that a penguin could swallow. If you’re a knitter, you can download the sweater pattern here.

Needless to say, the Penguin Foundation receives a lot of sweaters that won’t fit or are potentially hazardous, so they came up with yet another brilliant idea. Why not put those sweaters on penguin plushies and sell them to raise money for the cause? So now they do that, too, and you can buy one, here, along with indulging in all your other penguin-loving needs.

It makes me wish I had the time and talent to knit these jumpers myself. It’s really heartwarming to go to the website and see a photo of a man who lived to be 110 years old who provided them with many a jumper. Good for him.

It’s sad that Knits for Nature is needed in this world, but having said that, how cute and fun is this project? I ask you, who doesn’t love a penguin in a sweater?

Knits for Nature

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Why Uluru Is Still on My Bucket List

There are so many ways to experience this place.

I was heartbroken to discover that no one will be allowed to climb Uluru, the rock formerly known as Ayers, after October, 2019. There’s no way I’ll make it to Australia by that deadline. (I doubt I’ll ever get there, if I’m honest, but it’s a nice dream.)

I’ve known several people who have climbed Uluru. And yes, I know it’s a sacred place for the aboriginal people of the area, but I had been led to believe that the sacred parts of it were off limits, and therefore I did not feel any remorse about having that climb on my bucket list, because I would naturally respect/avoid those areas.

Wow, was I misinformed. According to this article, the climb goes right through a section of the rock that is traditionally reserved for indigenous men only. As such, there have been signs at the start of the climb, placed there by the Anangu people, asking people to respect their culture and not make the climb at all. Everyone who has climbed that rock since 1985 has had to walk right past those signs, and trample right over these people’s wishes, to do so. Horrifying.

Not only that, but the chain and the path have worn a permanent scar on the rock over the decades. And there are no bathroom or garbage facilities up there, so you can just imagine the human impact. All that bio-waste has washed down the rock during the rain, and it has contaminated the waterholes in the area with bacterial runoff.

People suck.

So, having said all that, why would I still have Uluru on my bucket list? First of all, the most beautiful view in that area is of Uluru itself, which is the one thing you cannot see when you are standing on top of it. I hope to someday look at it from a respectful distance.

And there are a lot of other experiences you can have while there. There are scenic walks, and cultural learning experiences. There is currently an art installation called the Field of Light which will be there until December, 2020, and it looks gorgeous. You can take guided tours, hear stories, visit museums, learn about food in the bush, and create art. You can ride a camel, and learn about the reptiles in the area.

All this sounds like great fun, and still very much bucket-list-worthy to me. I believe in supporting local economies and respecting local cultures. So even if I could get to Uluru before the end of October, now that I’ve been educated, I wouldn’t make that climb. It would be enough for me to just be there.


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10 Day Album Challenge #5: Stella Donnelly, Beware of the Dogs

Stella speaks her truth softly, so people will actually listen.

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!


Once again, National Public Radio has introduced me to an amazing artist that I probably wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. (I struggle to keep up with pop culture.) But on this day, I was driving down the road, listening to an interview with a delightful singer named Stella Donnelly.

Before I even heard her music, I fell in love with her Australian accent and her upbeat, positive, enthusiastic personality.  She’s one of those people you can tell you’d enjoy hanging out with, even if you were only, I don’t know, folding origami cranes or something. She’s intelligent and fun and sincere.

From that, you’d expect to hear a bunch of songs about rainbows and unicorns. But what I heard next took me a little by surprise. They talked about how her first breakout song, Boys Will Be Boys, came out right around the time the #MeToo movement took off, and because of that she received death threats and obscene messages. In my opinion, messing with Stella Donnelly would be like drop kicking a puppy into an active volcano.

As the title makes clear, the song is about rape. And it addresses how women are often blamed, and made to feel guilty, for the violence perpetrated upon them. The last line in the song is “Time to pay the f***ing rent.” When I heard that, I cheered. You go, Stella! You tell ‘em!

Stella is a study in contrasts. Her melodies are as sweet as she is, but her lyrics are often like a straight shot with a barbed arrow, and they always hit the bullseye. I think that is because she speaks her truth softly, so people will actually listen.

After that interview, I ran straight to her website and discovered that her tour was taking her through Seattle, so I immediately bought tickets. The concert was at Barboza, a venue I’d never been to. It was a dark, sticky, underground, claustrophobic little hall. But this place manages to book some edgy acts. It was full of hip Seattleites, and we were arguably some of the oldest people in the place. I wanted to rescue Stella. It didn’t feel like she should be there. But she held her own. In fact, she thrived.

That’s Stella in a nutshell. She seems so fragile and vulnerable, but she has a backbone made of pure steel. It’s that dichotomy that appeals to me the most.

For an introduction to Stella Donnelly, check out this Tiny Desk Conert. After that, I strongly encourage you to check out her debut album, Beware of the Dogs. You’ll be so glad you did.

Beware of the Dogs

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Exploring Vancouver: Fireworks without the Patriotism

I absolutely love fireworks. I think of it as art, writ large. Light is the paint and the sky is the canvas. It’s the purest form of joyously explosive creativity. That’s why the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays here in the US.

So when I heard of the annual Celebration of Light in Vancouver, an international fireworks competition, I thought it was the perfect time to visit my friend Martin, who lives there. The celebration is on three separate days in July, and I was only able to catch one of them, but it was very much worth it.

On the night I attended, it was Australia putting on the show from the middle of English Bay, and they did a fantastic job. I couldn’t help but compare it to the dozens of American Independence Day fireworks that I’d seen throughout the years, but there was something different here. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first.

Eventually I figured it out. This event had not one whiff of patriotism. No flags. No “Proud to Be an American” blaring out of the loudspeakers. No drunken political rants. No us vs. them. No “we are better than you are”. It was refreshing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love my country, and I consider myself lucky for having been born here. But I’m not always proud of everything it does. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Republican National Convention, for example. Every time I thought of doing so, my stomach would ache.

And perhaps because I am an American, I believe strongly in freedom of speech and expression, so it rankles when patriotism is forced down my throat, even when I already feel it. I don’t like to be pressured by society. I can already imagine the negative responses I’m going to get just for writing this.

At the Celebration of Light on the night in question, it was estimated that 300,000 people attended. 300,000 people who were not trying to be or think a certain way. 300,000 people who had nothing to prove. They were just out to enjoy some fireworks and revel in the mild summer breezes. It was really, really good to be there, spending time with a dear friend in a relaxed atmosphere.

Incidentally, on July 3oth, it will be the USA competing in this event. I wish I could go. I’d be curious to see if they try to inject any patriotism into it. The Netherlands competed on the first night. I wonder who will win?

What follows are a few of the pictures I took at the celebration. But in case I didn’t say this while you were my gracious host, thanks, Canada. Thanks very much.

The Nullarbor Nymph

It’s funny what you can come across on the internet when you go from link to link, allowing the cyber highway to take you where it will. It’s even funnier, apparently, what capers you can come up with when you are sitting in a hotel bar in a little town, population 8, in the back of beyond in Australia. And it just adds evidence to my theory that people will believe just about anything.

Hence, around Christmas, 1971, the Nullarbor Nymph was born. The press were told that several kangaroo hunters had seen a feral blonde woman running with the kangaroos, wearing next to nothing except some strategically placed kangaroo skins. It was a slow news week. The press ate it up.

[Image credit: abc.net.au}
[Image credit: abc.net.au}

Before they knew it, the little town of Eucla was besieged by both the international press and a swarm of tourists, all hoping to get a glimpse of this woman. Business had never been better! The glimpses were provided. Footprints. Grainy photographs. A girl running across the road just far enough away to be unidentifiable, but just close enough to be tantalizing. A potential campsite. People were entranced.

Far too soon, one of the hunters was in the bar with a tongue loosened by alcohol, and he unfortunately revealed the hoax. I say it’s unfortunate because the tourism potential for this story could have rivaled that of the Loch Ness Monster. Still, it is considered one of the best hoaxes in Australian history.

There are still postcards floating about, and statues, and in recent years, even a low budget movie. And I suspect that people still sit at the bar in Eucla and talk about the nymph. Their population has grown to 86 now. And they have to talk about something, don’t they?

The original nymph, Geneice Scott, standing in front of a nymph statue in Adelaide in 2007. [Image crecit: perthnow.com.au]
The original nymph, Geneice Scott, standing in front of a nymph statue in Adelaide in 2007. [Image crecit: perthnow.com.au]

On Making a Fool of Oneself

I just watched a short Youtube video about a guy in Perth, Australia who likes to start impromptu dance parties with strangers on trains. What fun! Before long, most everyone on the train is getting their groove on, and I’m sure they all have smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.

I am a big proponent of making a fool of oneself. That doesn’t mean it’s within my comfort zone to do so, but I’ve found that when I give myself that extra little push and do something silly…Wow! What a rush. It’s liberating.

I did notice one guy on that train who wouldn’t dance, and sat there frowning. I know a lot of people like that. They absolutely will not play under any circumstances. They tend to be bitter, angry people that are filled with regrets. I feel sorry for them.

But I don’t feel so sorry for them that I wouldn’t boogie down. Life’s too short!

train party

[Image credit: popsugar.com.au]

Avoidance Practices

I used to date someone long ago whose mother was… well… weird. And by that I mean really, really odd. Her concept of reality was so skewed that you never knew where she was coming from. Her children used to make fun of her behind her back, which made me extremely uncomfortable, but I tried to view it as the coping mechanism that it probably was. I can’t even imagine what growing up with that woman must have been like. It was probably akin to waking up every day in a different abstract painting where the rules of perspective are constantly in a state of flux. And she completely controlled that clan by pretending to be utterly helpless, which got on my feminist nerves.

I would have never married into that family. Not in a million years. When there’s that level of fundamental dysfunction, there’s bound to be a legacy. They say that you can determine how a man will treat you by how he treats his mother, and I firmly believe that. But you must also take into consideration how that mother has treated her son. You can only get past a certain amount of emotional scar tissue.

Like it or not, when you marry someone, you’re marrying into a family, too, so you should be strongly advised to take a hard look at your in-laws to be. (Because of this, I think I’m a great catch. Both my parents have passed away, so there’s a certain level of complexity that can be entirely overlooked. But then, I’m pretty freakin’ complex all by myself.)

I really like how the Australian Aboriginals deal with this situation. They have certain cultural avoidance practices, and one of the main ones is that daughter-in-laws and son-in-laws are not to speak to their mother-in-laws. Period. If they show up to the same party, for example, they sit with their backs to one another. If they do need to communicate, the do so through the spouse. It’s not a hostile situation. It’s not born out of anger or dislike. It’s actually viewed as a form of respect. But I can imagine that it goes a long way toward promoting family harmony.

I have to say that I love this idea. Love it, love it, love it! Can you imagine how much nicer Thanksgiving dinner would be if this practice were put into place? Okay, a lot of people get along with their in-laws. If so, they are lucky. They also seem to be the exception, not the rule. So I maintain that some ancient traditions are really worth perpetuating.


Avoidance, by Robin Wiltse