Entomologist Michael Strabala is known by his website name, Felidaeastronomer. You have to use it when you're at a party and someone in a suit comes up to you and says, "You know, I know exactly where you got that picture of that caterpillar and you left that phone number with that stinky, crawly fellow on the shoulder of the road."
Because, it really isn't that difficult.
The internet is used to finding what we all want, whether it's a performance review for our jobs, the best way to cast our votes on YouTube or the best place to buy a flight ticket. It has even found information about how to actually buy things, as I found out when I asked to view some listings for a house in Nashville and was met with sarcastic emails. It seems the internet has a way of delving deep into our lives and we are often surprised by what they find.
This led me to one of Michael's podcasts. Sometimes I watch documentaries because I'm curious about them, sometimes I watch them just because they're great pieces of horror fiction. For this reason, he created "Squat Hunters" with horror film king Syfy in partnership with AAA. In it, Michael and I take a look at the strange creatures that you can find -- or not find -- in your neighborhood.
Thankfully, some of them are real.
Not because they were legends until recently, but because the authorities make promises and then don't do what they say they will do.
The creatures of myth and folklore have existed forever. There is a whole branch of biodiversity that focuses on chasing these things down and discovering the truth behind their existence.
I wanted to find out which creatures were lurking in my backyard and brought Michael along. He told me to fill out a survey, a survey that was seemingly created at the behest of a higher-up at the housewarming party you attended last week. How did you know?
The survey asks visitors to submit a picture of the creature, which by this point, is a sea spider. Then it asks you which particular animal it is. In order to find out, we entered a submission, answering the basic questions like "did the creature know the answer?" and "how would it describe this creature to you?"
We had 10 minutes to fill out the survey, but what would you do with that much time? So we submitted the creatures, each a different species.
The main problem is that a description makes it sound like it's a monster living among us, which it is not. It's the endangered sea spider, the animal you routinely see crawling up your car windscreen.
Nowhere in the survey was there any mention of an animal we'd encounter in the outdoors, like the chipmunk. Yet every resident of the world knows about the chipmunk, which is a Canadian native. All this has caused the naturalist to call the project "Nothing but a mess."
When asked to provide context, he sent me this quote:
If you're a New Yorker that live in the city you're familiar with all sorts of creatures crawling around on your cars, floors, rooftops and street corners. If you like the outdoor animals to be a little more curvilinear and pointed you would say something like the tail on the head of this creature, the spine might be pointed like the high acorn on the head of another animal, if the tail was long and pointed you would say something like the tail on the head of this creature.
If you don't have an explanation for the ear shape of the right ear, did it belong to a familiar animal of your choice?
You probably also didn't specify the color of the ears on the other side.
We know the common object will be brown, because that's what Michael reports the humans at the housewarming party look like. We know it wasn't a stuffed animal, because that was Michael's reasoning for throwing the cat over to the wall. And the animal already knew it was a chipmunk.
Now you can have no further of involvement in this foolhardy, surreal endeavor. Because, as Michael states, if you don't "know about all these creatures out there" then nobody else will either. And the more you know, the more you won't like.