Monday, September 10, 2012

Flipping uncertainties

Yesterday was International Rock Flipping Day.

No, it wasn’t a day of wild celebration for stone-skimming enthusiasts, nor a day of reckoning for designers of rockeries.

On this auspicious day stout-hearted folk from around the globe head out into the wilds to turn over boulders and see what weird and wonderful critters are loitering underneath.

Now each time the event rolls around I’m faced with a quandary. I like the idea of all this collective rock-flipping but quail at the prospect of actually shoving my fingers into the murky haunts of venom-toting beasts.
OK, you may think I’m being overcautious, but the rocks around here harbour 3m (9.5 ft) long black mambas, bad-tempered puff adders and at least two species of cobra (one of whom spits venom with llama-like gusto). It’s a constant fight to keep these creatures out of my home without voluntarily invading theirs!

In the past I’ve deviously circumvented this dilemma (see here and here), but this year my ingenuity failed me and I decided to give Rock Flipping Day a miss. So averting my eyes from all rocks, and trying to ignore the skinks and flat lizards skittering about on every outcrop, I set off to find my mongooses. After one and half hours trudging through the heat, scouring the length and breadth of Koppiekats’ range, I finally found the group sprawled in the shade right beside my car.

And they were lying under rocks.

Although I only had my old point-and-shoot camera with me, I dutifully lay in the dirt on my stomach and tried to take some (bad) under-rock photos.

Whatta you lookin at?

What dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula) do under rocks.

'There are older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world.'

Rock crevices are ever popular when jackals, honey badgers or dogs pay a call.

OK, I admit I didn’t flip anything. But I also didn’t die a slow and painful death by envenomation.
And I defy anyone to find something cuter under a rock.

To discover what the world's other (genuine) rock-flippers found beneath their rocks, check out Wanderin' Weeta blog.


  1. Glad you survived the Day again! And they are cute. I like those two showing teeth at each other. What's that, sibling rivalry, or are they just smiling in their own way?

  2. aw... I think you did super well. =) I also like the sound of rock flipping day, but I'm so concerned folks will not oh-so-carefully-and-precisely flip the rocks back that I can't bring myself to promote it.

    The first thing I monitored as a biology professional was the rocky intertidal zone, and when folks flip rocks and don't VERY carefully replace them (and still sometimes things get crushed), just about everything dies. The things specialized for the bottom get nuked by the sun, the things specialized for the top get suffocated by sand.

    Anyhow, another benefit to sidling around on your belly (besides not changing rocky microhabitat that takes decades to form, and not squishing anyone) is great and unusual angles re: photography. Delightful documentation. =) And, of course, that finely polished belly skin. =)

  3. Biobabbler,
    Thanks for bringing this up. May I use your comment later, on future occasions?

    I squished a banana slug yesterday, because I lifted a rock too heavy to handle, and it slipped as I replaced it. Just another slug, but I felt badly about that, and will be more careful in future.

  4. I think it's perfectly legit--non-invasive and a flipping of sorts--only you "flipped" (well, contorted) yourself rather than the rocks. And, as biobabbler says, got great photos! (Also, I don't think Lord of the Rings will ever be the same for me now. In a good way.)

  5. Wow, those things are CUTE!

    Some of my professors in college discourgaed us from flipping disturbs the critters below, and we NEVER put them back exactly as we found them...and we don't even have scary venomous creatures here in Upstate NY!

  6. I would say you had quite a success without having to give anything a dangerous flip. - Margy

  7. I certainly think these count as being under rocks!! I do like that comment about the smoothly polished belly skin from crawling around on the ground. Sounds so much nicer than skinned knees,,,

  8. Susannah,
    Thank you for once again going to the trouble of organising this exciting event.
    The toothy tiff is over which mongoose will explore the little hole to their left (which may, or may not, contain something yummy). I find it worrying that the animal on the right appears to have more than a single row of teeth! Are they cunningly evolving into sharks??

    Yes, I've always suspected that it's pretty detrimental (overturning rocks, not crawling on one's stomach... although thinking about it, that also has its downside...). Any time I've ever tried lifting rocks, the creepy crawlies beneath just scuttle down into whatever cracks still remain and it takes me half an hour of rock juggling to get everyone out so I can put the rock back.
    But it's such a lovely idea - everyone going out on a particular day to make discoveries in the natural world - I feel that we should come up with a less invasive alternative. The problem is, I just can't think of anything that carries an equivalent sense of mystery and discovery. Pox!

    Ah, your lovely, contemplative post puts my crude body-flipping to shame. And your photos are breathtaking too (as usual!).
    Also many thanks for your sage advice about coping with my new neighbourhood. I'm carefully studying the locals for evidence of scent-marking and latrining behaviour.

    Bearly Alyssa,
    I've always had the impression that there are MANY scary, venomous creatures living in NY. I guess they don't hang out under rocks though.

    Powell River Books,
    Thank you for your vote of confidence.

    I also like the concept of polished belly skin, but I'm afraid skinned knees and gravel rash are probably more accurate...


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