Friday, November 4, 2016

annual Panther trip

Last Monday, I returned to Panther Nation, paying a visit to Coach Will Roberts' AP Environmental Science class at Powell High School. It has become an annual tradition.

Each student had been assigned to read a portion of one of my first two books: Natural Histories or Ghost Birds and ask questions about what they had read. Plus we chatted a bit about my upcoming book Ephemeral by Nature to be published next year by UT Press. 

Topics we visited were some of my favorite parts of my first book including bald eagles, Osage oranges, pawpaws, cicada eating on live TV anda preview of coming attractions—the red pandas that will be featured in my upcoming book.

Ian asked me a question and I grappled with coming up with a concise answer: The difference between a poison and venom? Concisely, venom is a type of poison. Animals like bees, wasps, spiders, snakes, jellyfish produce venom, a poisonous substance that can be lethal to their prey and some venom can be lethal to humans. I am allergic to wasp venom. A good sting sends me to the doctor. A rattlesnake is venomous but not poisonous. Once you remove the head, we can eat them, but I'm not sure I would. The Japanese have a penchant for eating puffer fish, once its toxin glands are CAREFULLY removed. To humans, its tetrodotoxin is deadly, up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one puffer fish to kill 30 adult humans. Scary. Some plants like belladonna also produce toxins that are poisonous.

After speaking to my Ijams supervisor Jennifer, she gave me a more concise answer: If you bite it and die, it is poisonous; if it bites you and you die, it is venomous. 'nuff said.

What to avoid! In this country annually, 58 people are killed by bees, wasps, and hornets, mostly due to anaphylactic shock after a sting; 28 are killed by dogs; 20 are killed by cows; 7 by spiders; 5.5 die from rattlesnake bites.

Class, just be careful out there and avoid all things toxic, venomous and poisonous, and no puffer fish! And if you see an ivory-billed woodpecker, let me know.   

Best of luck to all of you! Thanks, Will.

Puffer fish. Poisonous? Or venomous?
Lincoln. A red panda at the Knoxville Zoo. 

Click these links for a look back at past visits:

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