Saturday, August 29, 2009

Of Pythons and Flying Foxes

Spectacled Flying Foxes in Cairns (Photo by Narca)

Cairns in Queensland is justly famous for offering splendid birding along its Esplanade and excellent diving and snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef. Not everyone, however, knows about the colony of huge bats––Spectacled Flying Foxes––that roosts in the large trees on the grounds of Cairns' main public library.

Wherever colonial animals gather, their predators aren't far away. We've heard intriguing rumors of Amethystine Pythons haunting the flying fox colony at the library. Who wouldn't want to see a snake with a name like that?!

Finding the bats is no problem. Any of several senses (vision, hearing, smell) leads us right to them. But the snake proves tougher, and it is hard to imagine where on these grounds a large snake might conceal itself well enough to live into magnificent old age.

Jim, ever the intrepid explorer and seeker-of-knowledge, sets out to find answers, starting in the obvious place––the library. Libraries have reference librarians, after all. As closely as I can reconstruct the conversation secondhand, it goes something like this:

Jim: "We've heard that the bat colony outside attracts pythons. Would you know where we might see one?"

Librarian: "There aren't any snakes here," in her best stern voice.

Jim: "But someone who'd seen one here...."

Librarian: "I've been here 20 years. If we'd ever had a snake here, I would have heard about it."

Jim: "But..."

Librarian: "No snakes!!"

Jim retreats, but later returns with another question. A different librarian sees him approaching and, holding up her hand to ward him off, exclaims simply, "NO!" delivered at a volume you don't often hear in libraries.

Undeterred, Jim finds the Aboriginal groundskeeper and asks him about seeing pythons. This man takes the question completely in stride and muses, "Not here. But you could try the mangroves."

So the flying foxes at the Cairns public library seem to have chosen their python-free dayroost with considerable wisdom and forethought.

Flying Fox Mosaic at the Cairns Esplanade (Photo by Narca)

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