Spiders by post – that’s got to be cruel, hasn’t it?

In a bizarre news item, the BBC reports:

A man has admitted sending a rare venomous spider in a package to a colleague at work. Mahlon Hector, 22, of Leicester delivered the Mexican red-kneed tarantula in a box addressed to a Marks & Spencer branch in Leicestershire. Hector handed in his resignation after dropping off the parcel at the Fosse Park store.

Mexican red-kneed tarantula

Now that’s curious enough. Curiouser still, however:

A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “The spider may also have suffered and we would have pursued the matter under animal cruelty legislation but it does not cover invertebrates.”

How crazy is that? Just look at that cute, furry spider and imagine it being shaken up in a box for some weird practical joke! What if it was one of those sweet little grey squirrels, or rats? People would be marching in the streets, probably led by Sir Paul McCartney. Well, the spider was probably OK, but the Ranger is very fond of spiders, and was startled to learn that there’s no way in law to be cruel to invertebrates. Perhaps there’s room for one more pressure group? No more flyswats! Ban the beer-trap! Calamari and prawns will be off the menu when the Invertebrate Cruelty Act is finally passed…

First published 2006. Republished with corrections 2013.

The Ranger eats Mopane worms – but avoids weasel coffee

Mmm! A party invitation arrived recently at Ranger Towers, inviting The Ranger and his companion to an evening meal… of invertebrates! Intrigued? The Ranger certainly was. With the possibility of combining two of his great interests, food and bugs, this was one night out that he certainly was not intending to pass up. The evening, hosted by the Isle of Wight’s most convivial archaeologist, proved to be a great success – at least, from the human point of view. Some of the arthropods involved may have had other views. The entire thing was inspired by the online shopping website Edible.com which sells all sorts of bizarre things which it asserts to be edible. Some are obviously novelty items, but others are less so. After a hearty meal of a conventional nature, The Ranger and the other guests gathered around the intriguing little hamper of goods from Edible.com and prepared to dive in. First on the menu were dried mopane worms – the caterpillar of Gonimbrasia belina, a moth found in much of southern Africa and an important source of protein and for millions of Southern Africans, as well as being of considerable economic importance. So, no novelty item here – people live on these things.

Mopane worms

Each dried caterpillar was about 5cm long, and The Ranger dove straight in and crunched one up. Let’s hope he never gets to live in the African bush because it was not good eating. ‘Like charcoal’ was how he described it. Wikipedia tends to agree, saying:

…the dried mopane worm has very little flavor and is some times compared to eating dried wood.

To follow was a dish of Giant Toasted Ants. The Edible.com website chirpily says:

The Guane Indians believe that these Ants have youth giving and Aphrodisiac properties…[they] taste similar to crisply fried bacon with an earthy taste, and make the perfect alternative party snack instead of nuts or olives!

Giant Toasted Ants

The Ranger had a good go at a couple of these little fellows, and it’s certainly fair to say that they are pretty big ants. Whether the rest of their description stands up to such scrutiny is doubtful, though. They tasted not dissimilar to the mopane worms, with the addition of little spiky legs. And if they had either youth giving or aphrodisiac qualities these were not immediately effective – which, on reflection, was perhaps not entirely a bad thing under the circumstances, as it could well have disrupted the party. Finally, the piece de resistance, a scorpion in a vodka-flavoured lollipop. No mumbo-jumbo about the life-giving emanations and the remote tribes this time – just a scorpion in a lollipop.

Scorpion in a lollipop

Crunchy? Yes, certainly. Sweet, well, kind of. The website helpfully suggests:

…take them clubbing or you can enjoy them at home.

It’s always something to bear in mind, if you were wondering about the etiquette of scorpion-lollipop consumption. A most enjoyable and adventurous evening was had by all – and later exploration of the Edible website revealed one treat which could have rounded off the meal but, not being invertebrate-based, was not on offer this time: Weasel Coffee. Edible.com coyly says:

This Coffee is first eaten by Weasels which then regurgitate it, no one knows why they do this.

Intrigued, The Ranger had to investigate this unlikely tale. It turns out to be almost true, except that the coffee isn’t eaten by weasels, but by the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphoditus); and it is not regurgitated but defecated – yes, that’s the other end – and that some people do know this. It also seems almost certain, given the scarcity and high price of the real Weasel Coffee, that the stuff on offer is in fact the comparable Trung Nguyên’s ‘Legendee’ coffee, which does not involve any weasels at all. But who would want to spoil such a great story?