The Cannibal Giant or How Mosquitoes Came to Be

Cannibal Giant Totem, Frog House, Klukwan, Tlingit child in the foreground, giant holding a starving child on the left

This is a mosquito origin story from Southeast Alaska. It is a Tlingit story from Klukwan, on the Chilkat River near Haines, Alaska. While Southeast Alaska is about as far from Central Texas as you can get, in so many ways, it provides a good explanation for the mosquito’s ever hungry nature.

Many years ago on the mountain above Klukwan lived a giant. The giant would come down into the fish camp and steal the salmon from the drying racks. This angered the villagers, and made them thin and hungry. When the fish were gone the giant began hunting and killing the villagers for food. It killed and ate many people. They were afraid to leave their homes and fearful for their children. They tried to kill it with spears, but the spears just bounced off the giant’s thick skin.

The villagers called a council to decide how to get rid of the giant. They tracked the giant up the mountain, and into the woods. Soon they saw a large community house with blood red smoke rising from the chimney. They knew this was the cannibal’s home. They decided to build a trap, like the hunters do for grizzly bears. They dug a deep pit, and lined the bottom with a tough sinew net. The hole was very deep, deeper than for a grizzly bear, and they covered it with branches and twigs to match the forest floor. Early in the morning, the villagers sent a fast and light hunter to the giant’s home, to draw the enemy out. The hunter, chased by the cannibal, ran lightly over the top of the trap. The heavy giant crashed through the poles and branches and snared himself in the net at the bottom. The villagers filled the pit with wood and soaked it with fish oil. When they brought the torches, the cannibal realized what they intended. He roared out that they did not have the power to kill him and even burned to ash he would feed on them.

To stop the cannibal from keeping his promise, the villagers kept the fire burning for four days and four nights. On the fifth day, the fire had burned down to ashes. The villagers took a long pole and stirred the ashes to make sure nothing remained of the giant. As they stirred, ashes and sparks flew into the air, and changed into mosquitoes which dived at once, biting and feeding on the villagers’ blood. The cannibal giant’s promise was fulfilled, and he returns today to feed on the blood of people.

Tlingit Mosquito Mask

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Monarch Butterflies



Monarch

Monarchs are one of America’s favorite butterflies, and one of the most interesting. Here in Central Texas we are gifted with both summer monarchs, and huge numbers migrating in the fall. These interesting insects are also the state insect of Texas.

Migration is one of things that makes monarch butterflies so interesting. Most insects complete their life cycle very close to home, but monarchs are an exception. These butterflies migrate long distances to overwinter in Mexico and California. Monarchs, like other butterflies, go through four complete life stages; egg, larva, pupa and adult. Most butterflies overwinter in egg or pupa stages, but the monarch takes a different path. They complete three full life cycles during the summer months in North America, dying after they lay their eggs. Finally, they lay their eggs for a fourth time, emerge, pupate and become adults. These adults are the special ones that in September and October will make the long journey to Mexico, and overwinter in the adult stage. The migrating monarchs we see in the Austin area come from all over the central United States and Canada. In February and March, the monarchs end their hibernation, breed, and die. The newly hatched monarchs begin the journey north.

Monarch 3Another interesting fact about monarchs is their feeding habits and resulting nasty
taste to predators. Unlike some species of butterflies, monarchs are very picky about where they lay their eggs and live as caterpillars. Milkweed is the only plant where monarchs lay eggs and caterpillars feed. As they feed on milkweed, monarch caterpillars store up fat that is transferred to the pupa and adult stages. The chemicals in the milkweed sap are poisonous and taste nasty. Monarchs concentrate these chemicals in the fat as larvae making the monarch butterflies taste disagreeable to predators. The bright colors and pattern of the monarch signal to predators that they are not a tasty treat. Most predators only try a monarch once! Some other butterflies even imitate monarchs’ coloring to get the same predator protection.

Adult monarchs feed on just about any nectar producing flower. To attract these butterflies to your yard, plant milkweed for a host plant, and flowers for the adults to feed on.

We should be noticing many more monarchs in the coming weeks as they continue their migration to Mexico. By mid-October, in some Central Texas locations, we should be seeing hundreds a day. Keep your eyes out for these beautiful and unusual butterflies!