What kinds of creatures live
on our island? This page is devoted mostly, but not exclusively, to the
land animals. There are plenty of books out there dealing with fish and
coral. These are the animals you are likely to meet if you live on Guam.
Guam is more famous
for its brown tree snakes than for anything else. You may have seen the
articles and documentaries that portray Guam as simply seething with snakes.
If everything on Guam were to disappear except for the snakes, the shape
of the island would still be clearly visible in the form of snake bodies.
We have millions of snakes for every person on Guam. When they come out
on the roads at night, it is like driving on a squishy washboard. And those
aren't seed pods hanging by the thousands from all the trees -- they're
snakes. During our frequent typhoons, snakes are blown out of their trees
by the powerful winds, and their bodies fill the air as if someone had
dumped a giant potful of overcooked brown spaghetti into a fan. Afterwards,
it looks like the aftermath of an explosion at a Chef Boyar-Dee factory.
People have to spend days scraping dead snake remains off their homes and
cars. Oh, yes, and little kids learn how to kill snakes before they can
walk. On the playgrounds, kids tie several snake bodies together to use
as jump ropes, or play snake tag, where the child who is "it" has to whack
another kid over the head with a dead snake, which is swung around like
is telling snake fables; that is mine.
seem to be plagued with snakes, and other people, like us, never see them.
Since 1991, we have only seen one in the wild. We have been told that if
you have cats, you won't have snakes. We have four cats, but only once
did they bring home a snake body. Our neighbor says that the cats don't
usually kill the snakes, they just harass them until they decide to go
somewhere more peaceful.
The Guam Power
Authority has blamed snakes for power outages so often that it has become
a joke. The snakes, who are arboreal, climb utility poles and fry their
buns on the power lines. The GPA guys got so tired of people saying, "Yeah,
right" to their snake stories that they started producing snake bodies
as evidence. It has been suggested that the snakes are attracted to electromagnetic
heard about how the snakes go after babies. People say that they can smell
the milk on a young mammal. The bite of the snake can be very dangerous
to babies, but we are told by experts that brown tree snakes are not technically
venomous. They don't have venom sacs, but simply some weird chemicals in
their saliva that can cause a bad reaction in some people. Researchers
tell me that the snake is of interest because they think that snake venom
in other species evolved this way, from saliva.
to biting babies, snakes have also been known to bite the protruding parts
of sleeping people, such as fingers, toes, noses, upper lips and... well,
Guam men, if they're wise, sleep with underwear on. People also claim that
snakes enter the plumbing of their homes via the vent on the roof and surface
in the toilet, where they can bite the unwary on their nether ends.
Brown tree snakes
are so muscular that they can stand straight up for most of the length
of their bodies, supporting themselves on just a short length of tail.
For this reason, it is hard to build a wall high enough to keep big snakes
out of an area. Not only do they have a good reach, but they can use fairly
minor irregularities on the surface of a wall to gain a ... well, not a
foothold, exactly. They can even use bagworms for this, and it is hard
to keep bagworms off a wall.
are so muscular, brown tree snakes make lousy eating. No matter how they
are prepared, their flesh is like rubber bands.
recently we found a dead baby brown tree snake on our doorstep, left there
by our cats. Usually a dead animal is covered with red ants in minutes.
But the dead snake wasn't touched by ants or flies or anything else for
the entire day that it remained in front of our house. That's how
bad they taste!
of the snake may also account for the snake story I was told by a friend.
He was driving down the back road to Anderson one night, and he went over
a speed bump. He was puzzled because there had never been a speed bump
there before. Looking in his rear-view mirror, he saw an enormous snake
crawling off the road, unfazed by having been run over.
story we've heard is about the snake who was determined to go yachting.
The owner found the snake on the boat and flung it overboard. It swam back
and climbed on up. The owner tossed it away. The snake returned. This continued
until the yacht owner executed the snake.
report having snakes drop on them when they open doors.
That is the
kind of rotten snake this is!
John Quenga with a large brown tree snake in a photo by Pacific
Daily News staff. Used with permission.
The bagworm is a
festive little caterpillar that has decided to act as a year-round Christmas
ornament. Bagworms decorate houses, trees, dead cars, and just about anything
that doesn't get up and walk away. We were once fortunate enough to have
a metal garbage can lid that was fringed with bagworms. We called it our
in a bag of plant debris. They can crawl around in the bag, or fasten themselves
to a surface by a few threads of silk and just hang there.
Sad to say,
these little caterpillars lead tragic lives. There are few fates worse
than coming into this world as a little girl bagworm.
All the little
bagworms spend their childhood in the bag. Then they go through caterpillar
puberty. When insects do this, we say they are pupating. This is the stage
in which a caterpillar retires to a cocoon or a chrysalis (or stays in
the bag), before entering adulthood. Dr. Buyce, a famous geologist, once
remarked that the reason why insects are so successful is that their teenagers
what happens next: the young insect emerges as a beautiful butterfly! (Or,
if more humble, a beautiful moth.) The boy bagworm comes out of his bag
as a little dusty-blue moth. We see these guys fluttering around in the
grass when we walk across a lawn or field.
But the girl
bagworm? She goes through puberty, and SHE IS STILL A BAGWORM. She stays
in the bag. She never gets to come out. She never gets to fly.
And as if that
weren't bad enough, she soon finds herself pregnant. She lays her eggs
(in the bag, of course), and when her little ones hatch, their first meal
is THEIR MOTHER.
There is certainly
a moral here.
Guam does not stand
out when it comes to mosquitoes. There are no more and perhaps fewer here
than one tends to find in other parts of the world. Anyone who thinks the
mosquitoes on Guam are bad should try spending a summer in northern Canada.
tend to be small, fast, quiet and low-flying. You usually don't know they
are there until your ankles start itching.
There are a
couple of places on Guam, however, where the mosquitoes are abundant and
audacious. One of these places is the Asmafines River in southern Guam,
the little stream that runs down next to the Sella Bay overlook.
River is famous on Guam for its so-called Velcro waterfall. The stream
does not have a slippery bottom and you can walk right up the waterfall.
It doesn't look at all like this should be possible, but it is.
tell you that the waterfall is easy to ascend because stromatolites give
the stream a non-skid surface. Stromatolites are layers of rough calcium
carbonate (limestone) secreted by cyanobacteria living in the stream. That's
what people say. But that's only half the story.
The other half
of the story is that when you approach the waterfall, thousands of mosquitoes
come down, pick you up, and half carry you up the waterfall to a place
where they can eat you in greater comfort.
Just how many
mosquitoes are there along the Asmafines River? Enough so that macho young
("Mosquitoes never bother me!") men, who wouldn't be caught
dead owning something as wimpy as mosquito repellent, are actually willing
to beg for the stuff in public, in front of females.
States has Johnny Appleseed. He's the guy who wandered across the country
planting apple trees. Guam has Johnny Flatworm.
decided that what Guam needed was black flatworms, so he imported some
from Malaysia, and distributed them around the island.
swear that Johnny Flatworm is a real person. Other people say he is a myth.
Either way, whether a deliberate or an accidental import, the flatworms
have come to Guam to stay.
If you dig a
few holes, or look under some rocks, or pull up some roots, you'll eventually
locate some of these interesting animals. They are terrestrial members
of the phylum Platyhelminthes, most of whom are aquatic or parasitic.
It is definitely
not cool to say that an animal is ugly. If you love nature, you realize
that no animal is truly ugly because life is beautiful and fascinating
in all its forms. If you are religious, you know that all of God's creatures
have a touch of the divine and are therefore beautiful.
this in mind when you are looking at a black flatworm.
If you hold
one in your hand (and Megaera actually did this), it scrunches around and
raises up the front part of its eyeless body, waving its gaping mouth around
as if seeking something. What it is seeking will be divulged to you shortly.
They look like
something alien from a monster movie. They look like something that a villain
from a Star Trek episode might slip into your ear. They look distinctly
We tried feeding
one to a baby monitor lizard once. The young lizard looked at us as if
to say, "You people have got to be kidding." In the process of trying to
entice the lizard, we handled the flatworm too much and it fell apart into
slimy little bits. The things don't hold up well at all. Of course, the
lizard never ate this thing, and we don't think any creature would have,
with the possible exception of a boonie dog. But this is an experiment
we haven't tried.
So what is the
flatworm seeking? The flatworm is seeking the anus of a snail.
This is what
we are told: The flatworm is a carnivore. It eats snails. It crawls into
their anal opening and eats them alive from the inside out.
Johnny Flatworm brought these things to Guam to eat the Giant African Land
Snail. The Giant African Land Snail had been brought to Guam to be eaten
by the Japanese. The big snails had gotten out of control here, we are
told, and existed in such enormous numbers that their slimy crushed remains
would cause cars to slide off the road.
As of now, the
big snails are down, but not out. And another imported land snail, a little
round brown and white striped one from the Philippines, is ignored by the
flatworm. The flatworm has decided that these outsider snails are not nearly
as tasty as the native Guam snails. So the flatworm has eaten up almost
all of our own land snails, causing some of them to become extinct. It's
Maybe my standards are too high, but Giant African Land Snails just don't
look all that gigantic to me. They're pretty big, but the biggest ones
I've seen have shells that are only about 10 cm. long. Maybe they're called
"giant" because of what they look like when they come out of their shells.
Whatever size the shell is, the snail looks much bigger. It looks like
there's too much snail to stuff back into the shell, and that's not including
whatever must be still inside to keep the shell from falling off.
The snails have
attractive, mottled, striped brown and white shells, smartly coiled in
an ascending cone. The snail itself is a rather drab brown. They have four
eyestalks, a single nostril on the right side of their mantle, and they
carry their tails curled up behind them in a jaunty fashion.
For some reason,
they share the slug's fondness for the University of Guam campus, making
our college a regular mollusk hang-out. The slugs occupy the sidewalks
and the snails hang out on the walls of the buildings. Our walls are covered
with masses of snail droppings. The droppings resemble dead and desiccated
earthworms. The photograph shows a cluster of three smallish snails surrounded
by snail poop on the wall of the College of Arts and Sciences Lecture Hall
at the University of Guam.
The snails I
have met seem to be mentally healthy. Unlike their cousins, the slugs,
they show no tendencies toward public nakedness or suicide.
Here in the ecological
disaster area known as Guam, the only land slugs we ever see are an introduced
species, a moderately attractive brown and yellow slug. They are fairly
flat as slugs go, closer to the ground than most, with a nicely patterned,
leaf-shaped mantle covering their entire foot. They are right-nostrilled
slugs; that is, they have their nostril on the right side of their bodies.
They are approximately 5 to 8 centimeters long.
The sad thing
about these guys is that they are suicidal.
suicide in two different ways.
One way they
do it is to crawl out onto the blazing hot sidewalks and parking lots at
the University of Guam and fry themselves in the cruel tropical sun. Other
slugs, elsewhere, only venture out onto the sidewalks at night or on rainy
days. These guys hit the pavement at high noon. As a result, one finds
their desiccated bodies at the ends of their slime trails all over campus,
but their favorite place to die is behind the Computer Center.
method of dying is much more striking.
We saw it last
summer, when we were out at Gun Beach measuring notches in the limestone
cliffs with some students. As soon as we came down to the beach we smelled
a particularly horrible smell. Now it isn't uncommon for Gun Beach to have
a certain miasma. People party there, and leave behind rotting meat, soiled
diapers, and puddles of urine and beer in pockets up in the limestone notches,
up above the high water line, but this was something different. We then
noticed that the beach was littered with hundreds, no, thousands, of dead
slugs. Then we saw that the water was full of dead and dying slugs, floating
gently back and forth in the surf. Then we took note of an odd plopping
noise, coming from the direction of the cliff. Upon investigating, we discovered
that slugs were hurling themselves from the edge of the cliff, to freefall
some 50 meters into the salty ocean below. Upon impact, they curled themselves
up and began to die, slowly and gruesomely.
One of the students
suggested that maybe they belonged to a cult. Another theory was that they
wanted to be nudibranchs, because marine slugs get more respect. Or maybe,
as in the Gary Larson cartoon, they had been misled into purchasing a Surf
'n Sun vacation package.
When we first moved
to Guam and heard about carabao, we were confused. Isn't it supposed to
be "caribou," and aren't they Arctic animals, some kind of reindeer? We
now know that carabao is a genuine Chamoru word belonging to the
Austronesian language family, but I often wonder if somewhere in the distant
past there might be a connection between the two words. Anyway, the carabao
is an animal that in English is called a water buffalo.
At one time,
carabao were of vital importance to life on Guam. Now they are considerably
marginalized, more of a curiosity and a tourist attraction than anything
else. You can find one in the little private zoo in Tumon, and there are
several living in the Madog River in Umatac. There is a whole herd of them
living on Naval Magazine, but one sees much more of their droppings than
of them if you can get onto that military base.
enormous, with huge curved horns and a long, concave face with a flat,
rectangular muzzle. They have funny, hairy lips. Once I suggested to some
friends that we might transport a carabao in a pickup truck, and they gently
laughed at me, explaining that a carabao weighs much more than a truck.
With all of that, it is fortunate that they are placid, gentle animals.
Their primary desire is for water and mud. If you know what you're looking
for, it isn't too hard to spot a carabao wallow hole in a stream. Sometimes
the carabao itself will come rising like a black mountain out of the wallow
if you startle it.
Whenever we have seen carabao following their own inclinations, they have
just been just standing around, being carabao. Sometimes you can see a
carabao pulling a carabao cart for tourists. We rode on one once in the
Chamoru Village. Malachi and I sat in the cart, and Megaera sat on the
carabao. After the ride, Megaera commented uneasily that the carabao's
coarse, sparse hair was full of nits. We teased her for a long time thereafter
about being a carrier of carabao lice, but fortunately the lice didn't
transfer to Megaera.
people still use carabao in the old ways. In Sumba, we saw a group of boys
plowing a muddy field by chasing a group of carabao around in it. It was
a lot of work for the boys, because as soon as they stopped running, so
did the carabao. We also saw a dramatic carabao race in Sumbawa. Each carabao's
horns were richly decorated, and the carabao pulled a man behind it on
a small sled. The man steered the carabao by pulling on reins attached
to a ring in the animal's nose. The race took place in a muddy field (actually
more of a pond). The idea was not only to be fast, but accurate: the driver
had to get his carabao to run across the field, turn 180 degrees around
a wooden figure sticking up out of the field (as close to the figure as
possible without knocking it over), and then back.
is still an important icon in Chamoru culture. The village of Yona has
a carabao statue at its major intersection which they decorate nicely at
Christmas. It used to have a calf, but that disappeared a few years ago.
A new carabao statue was recently placed in a park in Mangilao, but it
lost its horns almost immediately due to vandalism.
We have a peculiar
pack of dogs in our neighborhood. One of the dogs is a pig.
He is a little
black pig who started out as someone's pet. He lived in a pen, but got
away pretty early on. Everyone figured that he would disappear into the
jungle, but instead he joined a dog pack that includes himself and three
adult male dogs. I don't see them very often, but my neighbor Pam does.
She says that the dogs keep looking at the pig as if they are trying to
figure out what kind of weird dog he is. And they lick the pig constantly.
Pam thinks they're trying to make him smell like a dog.
When the pig
first joined the pack, he was just a little piglet, but now he is a large
and lusty teenage pig, as big as and much smarter than his companions.
He has become the pack leader, and he spends a lot of time mounting the
dogs. As Pam says, if species doesn't matter, why should gender?
We have a lot
of pigs on Guam. Supposedly, there are two species, wild pigs and feral
pigs. Also, supposedly, they have interbred, which goes against the definition
When we lived
in Yigo, we used to see the big black feral pigs all the time. They would
come out of the jungle and walk through our yard. Once a sow came through
leading a line of piglets. She stopped and snorted when she saw me, and
the piglets instantly froze in place. She turned to face me and lowered
her head menacingly. When I didn't move, she and the piglets eventually
went on through the yard and back into the jungle.
and I met a friendly pig tied up next to Madog River in Umatac. He's a
big pink pig who grunts and squeals when he sees us, and makes it clear
that he appreciates attention. Benny, one of the students, tried to feed
him some leaves from a nearby tree, but the pig wasn't interested. "What's
the matter with you?" Benny asked the pig. "Don't you know that you're
a pig? Pigs aren't fussy about their food!"
The people at
the Federal Wildlife Refuge in Ritidian are not at all fond of the pigs.
They are too numerous and are destroying the seedlings and saplings of
many tree species. That is why you never see any young breadfruit trees
on Guam, they tell me. Once the old trees have died, there won't be any
more breadfruit on Guam.
Toads are wonderful.
It's true that they pee on you when you pick them up, but then, so do many
children we have known.
You can have a lot of fun with a toad. Megaera found that she could get
an interesting reaction if she left one sitting around on the couch on
stage during the rehearsals of Frankenstein at the UOG Theater. Another
time she and her little brother introduced some toads to Senator Bordallo.
Megaera always names her toads the same thing: Rosie the Ribbiter. If you
don't get that joke, ask your grandfather.
People say that
frogs and toads eat only live food. Our Guam toads, on the other hand,
have been observed eating dog food and cat food. We've seen them do it
Guam toads are
also more vocal than your average toad. They cuss you out if you handle
The toads, when
well-nourished on a steady diet of cat food, can attain a remarkable size.
Some of them are as big around as the chicken pot pies they sell at Kentucky
Fried Chicken. They get even bigger when picked up, because they inflate
themselves. They grunt, chirp and hiss and shoot out a stream of urine
that can reach respectable distances.
Once we gave
the cats a treat of tuna juice on their dry cat food. But a toad got there
first and ate all the cat food, a prodigious amount for one toad. He ate
so much that he got stuck between a cement block and the wall, and he looked
like he had swallowed a softball. When Megaera picked him up, he inflated
himself even further. When she released him and he hopped away, the impacts
of his landings drove the air out of him and he farted with every hop.
We read somewhere
that toads have so little sexual dimorphism that even a toad can't tell
by looking whether another toad is a male or a female. If a male toad sees
another toad, he will get amorous with that individual. If the other toad
happens to be a male, he will object by chirping. If the toad is female,
she won't say anything. And that is how toads go about romance.
Our toads grow
to be such big bufos that it is hard to believe that when they first emerge
from tadpolehood, they are about the size of a largish housefly. You can
find swarms of these little housefly toads by Madog River in Umatac. We
go there sometimes with students from the University of Guam. One of them,
a person who does not share our love for toads, did a funny little toad
dance when baby toads got on her foot.
Toads do have
a dark side. At Madog River it is not uncommon to find a big toad with
someone else's legs hanging out of his mouth.
I took Malachi
to the Madog River when he was three years old. He was so intent on looking
at all the tadpoles and toads that he didn't notice, when we came around
a bend, that we were face-to-face with a carabao. When he finally did notice,
he was alarmed. "Is that a dinosaur, Mama?" he asked.
"No," I said,
"It's a carabao."
"Do he eat me?"
he asked. Deja vu! Megaera had asked me the same question when we met up
with George Bush when she was a toddler.
You can click
on the photo of Potpie and Megaera to see more toad pictures.
Chickens can't help
it. They are chickens because their parents were chickens.
everywhere on Guam. They are in every yard, by every roadside, and even
downtown on the grounds of the Courthouse. We always get a laugh out of
those letters to Dear Abby and Ann Landers in which people complain about
their neighbor's crowing rooster. Imagine, living next door to just one
are truly beautiful. They are very close to the ancestral chicken, the
Pacific jungle fowl. The roosters are black with a collar of golden neck
feathers and an iridescent green tail. The hens are simply black, but are
still very attractive. There are other chickens who have mated into this
stock and produced some interesting variations. One of the nicest is a
black and white checked hen.
must be tough. They have survived brown tree snakes and boonie dogs.
Our cat, Cat
Calloway, has an interesting relationship with one of our neighbor's chickens.
She is a tall, gangly white hen with a black tail. Most of our neighbor's
chickens stay in their yard, but this hen frequently ventures into our
yard. Cat Calloway always takes note of her visits, and stalks her. She
goes about her chicken business, but when he moves toward her, she lifts
up her head and tells him off. He sits up, looks around innocently, and
washes his leg.
Once we saw
a hen and a yellow tabby cat sitting cuddled up together on top of a Dumpster.
Most of the
time, chickens have no idea what they are going to do in the next moment.
They go through life more or less randomly, and without plan. That is why
the old joke about the chicken crossing the street is so enduring. The
idea that a chicken would have any reason at all for doing anything is
saw her, here on Guam: the chicken crossing the street.
She didn't simply
drift randomly across the street, pecking here and there, crossing accidentally.
She did it on purpose.
Rt. 4 at the traffic light by Apusento Gardens. She waited patiently by
the side of the road until the light stopped the traffic on Rt. 4. Then
she quickly and deliberately crossed the street with the light, walking
in a straight line.
We don't know
for sure why she crossed the street. Maybe it was just to get to the other
side. But she was definitely a chicken with a plan.
Over the years,
we have come to realize that chickens are smarter than dogs. You see a
lot more chickens than dogs alive next to the road, and a lot more dogs
than chickens dead in the road.
Megaera got lice
her first month on Guam.
We didn't realize
it right away, although we should have. She told us that bugs were living
in her hair. "Does your head itch?" we asked.
"No, not really,"
"How big are
these bugs?" She showed us with her fingers -- about half a centimeter.
"Can't be lice," we concluded. "Lice aren't that big."
what we had always heard: lice are so small that you can't really see them.
You just see their eggs, or nits. Boy, had we heard wrong!
Megaera's teacher had inspected her for lice and hadn't found any.
"I used to sit
in class," Megaera told us later, "pulling bugs out of my hair and flicking
them away." She probably transmitted lice to every kid in her class.
was able to produce one of her bugs at home and show it to us. We stuck
it onto a piece of Scotch tape and examined it. It certainly looked like
a louse, only bigger. It was 6 mm long. We compared our captive with pictures
of lice in our entomology book. It was a good match, but just to be sure,
we took our specimen to the doctor's office.
"I'm not sure
what it is without looking at it under a microscope," said the doctor.
"Oh, come on,
doctor! That's a louse!" said all the nurses.
We washed Megaera's
hair with that awful louse shampoo and thought that we had taken care of
the problem. Afterwards, she brushed her hair. She was wearing a pretty
dress with a big, white bib collar. As she brushed her hair, lice rained
down onto that white collar, and most disconcertingly, they were still
It was a long,
hard road getting rid of all those lice. But we made the most of the opportunity.
We all had fun looking at lice and nits under the microscope.
Megaera could spot nits on a person at twenty paces. Everywhere we went,
it seems, Megaera would poke one of us and whisper, "You see that lady
over there? She has NITS!"
"The guy who
was standing in front of me at Taco Bell -- he had NITS!"
"The girl who
sits next to me in the Hans Christian Anderson play -- she has NITS!"
lice is one of those experiences that mold a person's world view.
I read about balates when I was a little land-locked kid
back Stateside. They call them sea cucumbers in English. Of all the creatures
in my animal books, the balate was the one that interested me the most.
Here is an animal that is not much more than a living bag. Water goes in
one end and out the other. Stuff in the water stays behind in the bag to
But if you mess
with a balate, according to my books, it throws its guts at you! Its guts
come spewing out and this scares away its enemies. The baffling thing about
this form of self-defense is the question of how a balate could survive
One of the most
exciting things about coming to Guam was the opportunity to actually meet
There are so
many different kinds. There are the common black ones that cover themselves
with sand and look like turds. There are the other black ones that have
little knobs all over them. When you pick them up and look at them closely,
you see that they have a midnight purple sheen, and you can see their tube
feet, like little strings, on the underside. Another dark kind is smooth
and has a magenta belly. There are the brown ones who look just like the
sand until you step on them and the white stuff comes out. There are the
brown mosaic ones that look like works of art. And of course there are
the long, skinny soft ones that look like vacuum cleaner hoses with tentacles
on the ends. Some of these are black and some are striped with brown and
white rings. These reach out from under rocks, gently sweeping their front
ends back and forth, vacuuming up edible detritus from the sea bottom.
Every Guam kid knows what you can do with the little black balates. You
can pick them up, hold them in front of your body in the appropriate location,
and pretend to pee. Since the animal obligingly expels a squirt of water,
the appearance is quite convincing.
The brown ones
that give out the white stuff are possibly the ones I read about as a kid.
The white stuff is part of their guts, a part that is called the tubercles
of Cuvier. This stuff is the stickiest stuff ever made. It is a glue that
will stick to things even under water. In fact, it becomes a permanent
part of anything it touches. The challenge, to me anyway, is to see if
I can pick one up gently enough so that it doesn't spew. It is possible
to do this most of the time.
But maybe the
vacuum cleaner hose balates are the ones I read about as a kid. I saw a
man pick one up once. At least, he tried to pick one up. He ended up holding
on to an empty skin. The guts slipped out as soon as he lifted it out of
the water. The man was absolutely grossed out. We are told that the skin
grows new guts and becomes a whole balate again. The fate of the guts we
some of the most abundant animals on the reef. It is tricky to avoid stepping
on them while snorkeling or walking on the reef, especially if they are
the kind that cover themselves with sand or have the same color as the
have interesting poop. It comes out of them in a coiled, sandy ribbon with
crenulated edges, making a pretty rosette on the sea floor that you can
pick up. People always pick it up because it looks so pretty and unusual,
and ask, "What is this thing?" Then they drop it fast when they are told
that it's poop.
eat balates, but it isn't generally done on Guam. Some balates secrete
a substance that is toxic to fish. Ancient Chamorus used to use it to catch
fish, but that practice is illegal now.
are the most fun animals in the reef.
Mike Pulte says
that boonie dogs couldn't have become so ugly by chance. It had to have
been the result of a deliberate breeding program. Someone out there was
selecting for ugly.
You can't get
much uglier than a dog with no hair and teats longer than its legs. When
they trot, the teats swing up and smack them on the sides with every step.
They are full
of mange on the outside and hookworms on the inside. If you prick a boonie
dog with a pin, it explodes in a shower of what looks like white noodles
and gray dust: worms and their eggs. That's all they have inside. They
certainly don't have any food inside.
Guam would be better off without boonie dogs. They do serve one useful
purpose, however: they are useful in turning up murder victims. Every once
in awhile, someone finds a boonie dog gnawing on a human body part by the
side of the back road to Andersen.
If you are foolish
enough to jog or bicycle here on Guam (and these are truly high-risk behaviors
here), you have to carry a big stick or a small rock hammer to fend off
Yigo Elementary School had a steady visitor in the person of a dog that
the children had named "the butt dog." This animal had a large growth the
size of a grapefruit under its tail. The children regarded the butt dog
with fascinated horror and spent a lot of time speculating about the cause
of its condition.
growths are common on boonie dogs. Some seem to have both testicles and
teats, for example.
dogs with gangrenous body parts is commonplace. Once I saw one with the
bones of its tail sticking out of the second half of its tail. The rest
of the tail was gray and banded, like an armadillo tail.
People can and
do adopt boonie dogs. Given proper care and feeding, their looks can be
improved dramatically, but most of them would still make a reasonable showing
in an ugly dog contest. A common dog type has a relatively normal-looking
dog body on extremely short legs, with a huge head and enormous bat ears.
These dogs are inevitably fat and female, with long pendulous teats that
never have time to shrink between litters.
Before we moved
to Guam, one of the things we were told is that Guam has lots of ticks.
For our first several years here, we never set eyes on a tick, and we were
beginning to believe that we had been misinformed. But now we know the
reason that we never saw ticks is that we don't have a dog.
Guam does indeed
have ticks, and they are extremely host-specific. They are 99 percent loyal
to dogs. The remaining 1% of their loyalty will be bestowed on humans or
cats if a dog isn't around.
If you have
a dog, you will see plenty of ticks. If the dog is allowed inside your
house, your house will be awash with ticks. We find it nerve-wracking to
visit friends who have indoor-outdoor dogs because we spend all our time
watching our feet to make sure we see the ticks before they get too far
up our legs.
We only saw
ticks around our house when a neighborhood dog decided for awhile to spend
her time sleeping next to the house. She would lean up against the house
in a thin strip of shade, and her ticks, when satiated, would flood up
People who own
dogs spend a lot of time removing ticks from their dogs. For awhile, a
woman who owns dozens of dogs made it a habit of bringing them all to the
University of Guam and sticking them in the office of a sympathetic professor.
There, this woman and her friends would have dog-deticking sessions. They
would see how many ticks they could get into a paper cup from Wendy's before
the ticks could crawl to the top and start escaping.
Lots of dog
owners take up smoking because a cigarette is such a convenient way of
disposing of ticks after removal from the dog.
can tell that a person owns dogs when you see ticks crawling out of his
or her hairline. These people are obviously used to it. They simply pluck
the tick off their forehead and toss it away without comment.
first year we lived on Guam, we met a Statesider school teacher who said
she was going to leave Guam as soon as possible. "Why?" we asked. Because
of geckos, she told us. Because geckos walk around on the ceiling at night,
and she was terrified that one would fall off and land on her face while
she was in bed.
have had geckos fall off things and land on me. Except for the fact that
they have cold little feet, it's really not so bad. A monitor lizard landing
on your face might do some damage. But a gecko?
How can anyone
The main complaint
seems to be that they leave poop on the walls. The paint on the walls comes
off much more easily than gecko poop does.
geckos is far more entertaining than watching television. For one thing,
geckos can move from one place to another without occupying the space in-between,
just like electrons. It's fun to watch them snapping up little flying things.
Sometimes a big gecko will eat a little gecko. You see it sitting around
with someone else's tail hanging out of its mouth.
If you leave
a bag of cold cereal or marshmallows or candy sitting out on the kitchen
table, you may return to find several geckos in the bag, stuffing their
faces with sweet stuff.
What a pity
that they don't eat ants! People tell me that they do eat cockroaches,
but I have never seen this happen.
argue, they twirl their tails and make funny chirping noises.
Not all house
geckos are the same species. The ones you usually see inside with
the zigzag pattern are called mourning geckos, so-called because their
mouths turn down and they look so sad. We have always thought that they
looked cautious, perhaps, or curious, but not really sad.
thing about mourning geckos is that they are almost all female. There are
almost no boys at all. The females play at mating and they lay eggs and
do all the things that geckos do, but without guys. There is a moral here,
but we will let you formulate it for yourself.
A pregnant gecko
usually has two eggs in her, and you can see them clearly through her semi-transparent
If you hold
a gecko egg in your hand while it is hatching, you'll have a chance to
see the little gecko baby sitting there all rolled up with her hands on
her knees and her tiny tail curled over her shoulder. The instant she figures
out what she is looking at, she will bolt. She has no idea that your interest
in her is not culinary.
If you hold
a gecko on your finger and look at her face-to-face, the first thing she
will do is lick her eyeballs. The next thing she will do is jump onto your
nose. Then she will bolt into your clothing and hide. Then you will do
an interesting little dance.
Of course, geckos
are not the only lizards on Guam. We also have those huge monitor lizards,
which people say are green, which they are not, and call iguanas, which
they are not either. These big guys are actually black with yellow spots,
and from a distance the black and yellow sort of run together and look
greenish, especially if the lizard is a bit scruffy and ready to shed its
skin. They are not the least little bit like iguanas. They are distant
relatives of Komodo dragons, and in the early days of film, people used
to use them as actors to play the parts of dinosaurs.
are excellent climbers. We had one living with us named Merrimac the Monitor.
Merrimac managed to climb into our sink. We would love to have seen him
do this, because we are still not sure how he did it.
Then there are
skinks. They are the rather plain brown lizards that you see running around
on the sidewalks outside. Juan Fernandez says that skinks are suicidal.
If you are mowing the lawn they get all upset and start running around.
The first place they try to hide, he says, is under the lawnmower.
We once saw
a skink with two tails. You probably know that lizards are very casual
about losing their tails. We figure that the two-tailed skink must have
suffered an injury to the tail that did not result in total detachment.
Its regenerative facilities went to work growing a new tail and the old
A newly imported
lizard is the beautiful anole. When happy, the anole is a brilliant green.
It turns brown when it gets upset, and gets black spots behind its eyes
when it is really stressed out.
are particularly entertaining. If an anole sees another male, or thinks
he does (if you hold up a mirror to him, for example), he will inflate
a red pouch on his neck and do lizard push-ups.
One final word
about lizards. One friend of ours took a sip from a soda that had been
sitting around for awhile. She felt something bump against her lips. It
was the nose of a DEAD GECKO! On Guam, one should never, NEVER drink a
canned soda that has been out of sight for more than a minute!
At least our flies
don't tend to bite. But they do love fiestas. The instant that the first
cover is taken off the first food item, the flies appear from nowhere.
If you are having your fiesta at the beach, you don't have to set the food
up yourself. The flies take it out of the car for you, carry it to the
picnic table and take the lids off themselves.
After all the
typhoons in 1992, Guam was overrun with these little flies that we called
midges, and other people called swamp flies and other people called gnats.
They didn't bite, thank goodness. But they covered surfaces with their
little bodies. They are preserved between paper and glass in many office
windows at the University of Guam. For awhile, it was impossible to copy
an exam on the photocopier without getting midge silhouettes decorating
One time Megaera
took a swig from an orange soda that had been sitting around for awhile.
She bit down on a bit of something that she thought was pulp and felt a
horrifying pop. You guessed it: the "pulp" was a fly. They could hear her
screaming all the way to Rota. So I repeat: on Guam, one should never,
NEVER drink a canned soda that has been out of sight for more than a minute!
Guam has too many
ants. Not only are there too many of them, but they all want to move in.
First of all,
there are those miserable red ants that bite. You can be sitting around
in your own house, minding your own business, when some ant will come along
and bite you in a tender place. They will also bite you if you stand in
one place for too long outside. They attend beach fiestas also, although
instead of going for the food, they go for the people. They have two kinds
of workers: the little ordinary ones, whose bites hurt a lot, and the guards
with heads half the length of their bodies, whose bites hurt even more.
else on Guam, we have led a continuous battle against ants, especially
the red ones. We don't like to use poison in the house. Poison is even
scarier than ants in one's bed. What we discovered works fairly well is
spackling compound, that white stuff that you can buy in a hardware store.
We find where the ants are coming in, usually through a crack at the base
of the wall, and we spackle it. The ants then find a new crack, and we
spackle that. This keeps going until the ants give up on cracks and start
coming out of the outlets. Then we spackle around the edge of the outlet
cover. The ants then start coming out of the outlet holes. You can't spackle
those shut, so what we do is put duct tape over them. You can still plug
things in through the duct tape, but it stops the ants. If the ants are
coming in under the door or through the windows, the weapon of choice is
slime fruit. This local plant is an ancient Chamoru ant repellent. You
rub the juice of the slime fruit around the place where the ants are coming
in and it stops them. By the way, slime fruit is the source of "Tahitian
noni juice," and if you ever saw, touched, or smelled that fruit, you would
not want to put its juice in your mouth!
There are also
those really tiny brown ants that chew their way into boxes of cold cereal.
If your cold cereal contains fruit or marshmallows, these ants will get
into the cereal before you even open the box. You pour the cereal into
the bowl and add the milk. Then the ants start to float to the top. At
first, you think that there are only two or three, so you pick them out
and start to eat. After you take a spoonful, a few more float to the top.
You pick them out and eat another spoonful. A few more float to the top.
You start to worry about just how much insect matter you are consuming
with this meal. After awhile, you realize that you might have a whole colony
in there, and it just becomes more nerve-wracking than it is worth. Thank
goodness for Tupperware. These ants also like to eat soup mix, especially
the Chinese kind that comes in a Styrofoam bowl and you just add water.
The little ants chew through the Styrofoam, leaving tiny holes in your
bowl. If you don't happen to notice this, and you go ahead and add the
water, you will end up with a flavored hot water sprinkler system.
And then there
are the roving colonies. They are small colonies of ants with no permanent
home. You never know where they will turn up. You might pick up a napkin
that has been sitting on your table, and surprise! There they are! Queen,
eggs, pupae, workers, soldiers and all. Everybody grabs the babies and
starts running. They go in all directions and disappear while you stand
there freaking out. Later, when the fuss has died down, they reassemble
somewhere else. Like in your shoe.
Guam is blessed
with a great many wasps that come in a wide variety of sizes, from the
tiny ones that come out of some butterfly chrysalises instead of the butterfly,
to those huge mud daubers nearly 5 cm long.
We have so many
mud daubers that their nests are everywhere. They particularly love to
build on houses, doors and window sills. They build stacked urns of red
clay and stuff them with little green caterpillars. We always have a wasp's
nest or two on our screen door. When we go outside, the wasp hovers around
us and we remind her that if she wants to stay, she has to put up with
us. We haven't been stung yet.
When we lived
in our old apartment, the one with the balcony, the wasps really made pests
of themselves. Their nests became so abundant on the balcony that we felt
that they had gotten a little out of hand. That is when we discovered that
it is fun to shoot wasps with a super-soaker water gun. The wasp comes
in. We blast her. She flies away unhurt, so we don't even have to feel
here tell me that mud daubers have prevented them from determining the
sediment-carrying capacity of Guam's streams. When they set out sediment
traps, the wasps rob them of mud so fast that almost nothing accumulates.
(Drawing of cockroach by Brenna Lorenz)
beings have three instincts: acquisition of language, love of music, and
hatred of cockroaches.
he was three, knew that he hated cockroaches, but he wasn't sure that this
was the right thing to do.
One day he found a dead cockroach
on our stairs.
"Is this cock-a-woats
dead, Mama?" he asked.
"Yes, it is."
"How this cock-a-woats
"I killed it."
"Why you kill
it? Was it a bad cock-a-woats?"
"Yes, it was."
"Do you kill
good cock-a-woatses, Mama?"
are already dead."
Now, at the
age of ten, he still has ambivalent feelings about cockroaches. He goes
after them with great gusto, and calls himself the roach buster. Then remorse
sets in. "I killed that poor creature, Mama, and it wasn't doing anything
"Okay," I tell
him. "Next time we find a cockroach, we'll catch it and let it go outside
instead of killing it." He nods and agrees. But he usually kills them.
When actually faced with one, his instincts take over.
Even when released
outside, they die because the cats get them. Cat Calloway has supplemented
his diet with so many cockroaches that he has gotten fat.
In the process
of doing research for a cockroach project at his school, Malachi learned
that cockroaches can live for a week without their heads. They only die
after a week because, without a head, they can't drink water. They die
of thirst. In other words, even though the cockroach has a brain, it doesn't
need it to live. Does this sound familiar?
By the way,
if you dispose of cockroaches by flushing them down the toilet, they don't
die. They simply take up residence in the sewer system. We had the opportunity
once to watch some Rotor Rooter guys opening the manhole cover next to
the drive-through of a popular fast food emporium in Hagatna. The inside
of the sewer access tunnel was seething with millions of cockroaches. They
came swarming out like something out of a horror movie, and the men stood
there dancing a cockroach-squishing dance as they lowered their hoses down
into the sewer.
Guam has cockroach stories. There's the story of one of my students...
he may not want me to use his name, which sounds like an explosion, so
I'll just call him Mr. Pop... Mr. Pop had been studying long hours and
had fallen asleep at his desk, snoring with his mouth open, the way sleeping
people do. When he woke up and closed his mouth, he felt something crunch.
"Oh, please don't let that be what I think it is," he moaned. But it was.
One time, we
came home late, all tired and hungry. We went into the kitchen, turned
on the light, and there was a great, big cockroach sitting on the counter.
"I see you,"
I said to the cockroach, "but I'm too tired to do anything about you."
That big cockroach stretched out its neck really long and looked right
I got some cold
pizza out of the refrigerator, and the cockroach flew at me. I stepped
aside and the big insect crashed into the refrigerator. As soon as it had
recovered its footing, it stretched out its neck really long, and then
flew at me again! I dodged and it missed me again.
I objected, "You leave me alone! I wasn't bothering you!"
Then it stretched
out its long neck and flew at me again! This time it landed on my leg.
I swiped it to the floor and dropped a laundry basket on it.
Megaera and I were heading for our bedrooms, and as we walked down the
hall, we saw another big cockroach. It stretched out its neck really long
and flew at us. "Not again!" I grabbed Megaera, hauled her into my room,
and slammed the door. We heard the thud of the roach's body as it crashed
into the other side of the door.
Later, in the
middle of the night, we heard someone running the vacuum cleaner. "Will
you listen to that," I said. "That big roach is vacuuming the living room!"
When we told
this story to the famous entomologists, Nafus and Schriner, they said that
roaches stretch out their necks and fly when they are interested in mating.
It is a very
disconcerting thought, and not really all that flattering, to learn that
one is considered sexy by a cockroach.
cockroach sex, we had a chance to witness it taking place on the ceiling
of our bathroom. Malachi caught them in the act while he was taking a bath,
and was most indignant. "They shouldn't be doing that in front of me,"
he protested. By the way, they do it tail to tail, like dogs, and if you
chase them (we did) they run away still connected.
Then we are
told the story, by whom we cannot recall, of the very pulpy orange soda.
The victim took a swig from an old orange soda. "I never knew that orange
soda had pulp," he thought to himself as he chewed. He took another swig.
"My goodness, but there really is an awful lot of pulp in this soda." Then
came the horrible suspicion. He spat out some pulp, and yes, it was a whole
bunch of little dead cockroaches! Never, never, never, NEVER drink a canned
soda that has been out of your sight for more than a minute!
A friend of
ours known as Junior did a science fair project his senior year at high
school that is still spoken of with awe by all who saw it. He had always
heard that cockroaches would survive a nuclear holocaust, and he wondered
if this were true. Since he didn't have access to nuclear warheads, he
decided that the next best thing was to test their resistance to microwaving.
wouldn't let him use their new microwave. But luckily they still had the
old one lying around, and they let him use that. "The smell of cooking
cockroaches is unbelievable," they tell us.
surprise, the cockroaches didn't hold up particularly well in the microwave.
In fact, they exploded. The record for cockroach survival in the microwave
was about 20 seconds. On the other hand, ants seemed virtually immune
to microwaving. Junior consulted the famous entomologists, Nafus and Schriner.
They told him that cockroaches are vulnerable to microwaving because they
have so much body fat.
What a revolting thought! Imagine rendering them for lard. If you run out
of vegetable oil, you can always deep-fry your chicken in cockroach oil.
made a poster for the science fair at his school. Part of his exhibit was
a sandwich bag containing the cockroach corpses, taped onto the poster.
Junior won first prize at his school, and was sent on to the Islandwide
Science Fair. In the month between the two science fairs, ants broke
into the sandwich bag and ate up all of his microwaved roaches. So Junior
needed more. Unfortunately (or fortunately) he had cleaned out the roach
population in his home and was despairing of where to find more.
One day he was
hanging around at University of Guam's planetarium. He had left a Coke
sitting around in there for awhile. He came back and was about to take
a swig when he heard a scrabbling noise coming from the can. He peered
carefully into the can, saw what was there, and smiled with triumph. "Boy,
am I glad to see you!" he said to the big roach in the Coke.
Junior is the
only person I have ever known who was actually glad to find a roach in
overheard two students at the University of Guam discussing the ethics
of cockroach infestation. The first guy said, "Dude, like, you know, I
was eating these, like, powder sugar donuts I had bought at the store,
and like, they tasted funny, and when I looked in the box, man, I saw that
they were like covered with these tiny cockroaches."
The second guy
exclaimed. "Dude, that's not right! That just isn't right!"
for the ultimate cockroach story. Jim Miller tells the story of two guys
who went scuba diving one day. One fellow had left his dive gear in the
trunk of his car for some time. He didn't test his regulator out before
getting all his stuff on and going into the water.
When they were
down 30 feet or so, a little cockroach ran out of the guy's regulator into
Now, some people
absolutely hate to take the mouthpiece out of their mouths underwater.
You have to do it a lot when you are taking scuba diving lessons. After
that, many people won't do it. This guy was one of those people. He just
let that little roach run around in his mouth.
the cockroach got bored running around inside this guy's mouth, and it
decided to go exploring. It ended up in his nasal passages, and eventually
came out of his nose and into his diving mask, where his dive buddy saw
When they returned
to the surface, the buddy said, "Do you know that you have a cockroach
in your mask?"
"Yeah, I know,"
sighed the guy.
did it come from?"
"Out of my nose."
if all that weren't enough, cockroaches bite. But Wayne Lumpkin tells us
that in New Orleans, people actually pay money for chocolate-covered cockroaches
and actually eat them. That seems fair to me.
Recommended Reading About Guam and Guam's Critters
Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island by Oliver Sacks: If you don't
know Oliver Sacks, he's the doctor that the Robin Williams movie "Awakenings"
is about. That movie is based on Dr. Sacks's book of the same title. Probably
his most famous work is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.