Reprinted from The Environmentor, vol. 10 no. 3, pp. 15-16.
How can such a little thing help me?
Have you heard the story of the lion and the mouse?
Aesop said that once a mouse scampered over what she thought was a mound of dry tan grass. But it was a sleeping lion!
Lion woke up with a roar and pounced. “Mouse!! How dare you interrupt my nap? I'm going to gobble you up.”
Mouse resisted. “No, Lion, I'm so small I'm not worth eating. And what will your friends think? They'll start calling you 'Mouse Eater'!”
Lion didn't like the sound of that. “Alright, clever mousie, I'll let you go. This time.”
Mouse scampered off.
Several days later, however, Mouse heard Lion's roar again. This time it was a roar of fear. She crept toward the sound and discovered Lion hanging in a net over a pit. She could see the branches with which the clever hunters had hidden their pit trap. Now Lion was caught!
Mouse scampered up the tree from which the net hung, and down onto the net. With her sharp teeth she attacked the ropes, pausing only to say, “Hush, Lion! The hunters will hear you! But I'll set you free.”
And she did. Lion slid through the hole she made, and landed safely on the ground.
“Thank you, Mouse,” he said. “I'm very glad I didn't gobble you up!”
If you found a Texas blind snake (Leptotyphlops dulcis, a.k.a. Rena dulcis) under a rock or even under a house, you might think it was a big pinkish earthworm – until you noticed that it has scales instead of segments. Growing just 6-10” long, they have tiny eyes (not really blind) and no teeth in their upper jaws, using their small lower jaws to gulp down their insect prey.
Although they have Texas in their common name, these little snakes live throughout our SW states, including western Oklahoma, and range into Mexico. They have no venom and are harmless to humans.
Naturalists weren't surprised when they saw eastern screech owls (Megascops asio) carrying these slender snakes back to the nest, although they puzzled that the owls didn't lop off the head before bringing it home as they usually do for baby food. Instead, they carried these snakes home whole and alive. And although the hungry owlets probably devoured some of them, most of the blind snakes burrowed down into the nest debris and were ignored by the parent owls. What were they doing there?
In the nest, the snakes fed on fleas and other insects that normally bedevil baby owlets. Naturalists found that eastern screech owl nests with resident Texas blind snakes fledged more healthy young owls than nests without. The snakes were doing pest control!
Texas blind snakes may be small, but they earned their keep – and the adult owls' tolerance.
According to legend, Aesop was a slave in a rich ancient Greek household. His masters appreciated his stories as clever commentary on current events (like our political cartoons) but he didn't dare insult them by pointing out “and the moral of that story was ...” Those morals were added by later rewriters of his tales.
Fact tale sources: