Heard Around the West: Montanans brace for car-jacking deer
December 2, 2017
It sounds far-fetched, but some deer are so habituated to people that they have been seen jumping over children on the playground at Missoula, Montana's Rattlesnake Elementary School. Still, a recent encounter shocked school employee Jenn Jencso: A deer crashed through the passenger-side window of her car, breaking the glass and landing inside the vehicle, hooves flailing.
A 5-year-old eyewitness described what happened next: "The lady … jumped out, and when she turned around, the deer was driving her car away. It hit a mailbox … so she got back in and she told the deer, 'Get out now.' It got out and ran away."
That account is slightly dramatized, but Jencso said she did have to "push the deer back over" in order to halt her moving car. Finally, it "fell out of the car and ran away." Jencso told the Missoulian that she likes deer, but they're getting out of hand.
"It's so dangerous how many deer we have. They're like feral cats."
Though even feral cats don't go in for carjacking.
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Consider the praying mantis, the helpful insect that eats harmful bugs. It also is the only insect that can stare back at us, swiveling its triangular, alien-looking head to scrutinize us with unnerving awareness. Its 3-D vision helps the mantis focus and also "to jump as unerringly as a cat," reports The New York Times. But the insects display a chilling predilection: They kill birds. James V. Remsen of the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University and his colleagues have documented 147 cases of mantises killing birds in 13 countries — warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers, vireos and European robins. Hummingbirds are their favorite, though, and they regard our outdoor sugar-water feeders as self-service restaurants. Tom Vaughan, a photographer living in southern Colorado's Mancos Valley, couldn't believe his eyes when he spotted a black-chinned hummingbird at his feeder, being dangled upside-down by a 3-inch-long praying mantis:
"The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird's skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within."
All the while it fed, Vaughan added, the mantis "was staring at me." Bird-eating mantises are almost always females, and the most voracious like to multi-task: feasting on a hummer while copulating with a male. These dinner dates can last several hours and sometimes conclude with the male becoming dessert. That the insects have learned to hang out near hummingbird feeders signifies "another step in cognition," Remsen said. "We're lucky praying mantises aren't our size."
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). Photos and tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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