Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/625

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WHEN I first came to Florida I heard terrible accounts of the deadly work of a poisonous "bug," popularly known as the "grampus" or "mule-killer."

My first informant was a "Florida cracker," who seemed fairly intelligent, and whom I had employed in a little woodcraft. He happened to encounter one of those terrible creatures, and promptly "smashed" it with his axe. On expressing regret that I had no opportunity of seeing it before it was crushed into so shapeless a mass, he gravely assured me that he "didn't take no resks on them varmints. Them's the pisenest things in Floridy. Rattlers ain't nowhar! A man what gits bit by one of them critters—no medicine can't save him! We calls 'em mule-killers, cause they's wust on mules. A hoss nor a dog don't seem to mind 'em, but a mule is done dead when one of them varmints strikes 'em."

I cross-questioned my informant a little as to his personal knowledge of the matter, and especially as to the fatal results following the bite of this very astonishing "bug." "Did you ever know," said I, "of a mule's dying from the bite of this 'mulekiller'?"

"Oh, yes, I've knowed of several, and I hearn tell of lots. Ole man Jernigan, he loss a likely mule what got struck by one of them critters, and there was a man what died down to the Johnson place, bit by one of them things. They tells me he took whisky enough to kill two men, but it didn't do him no bit of good. He was powerful fond of whisky, anyway, and he died mighty easy."

I subsequently made some inquiries in regard to these supposed casualties, and came to the conclusion that my informant's accounts of them were largely mythical. A mule had died in the neighborhood mentioned, but the "mule-killer" was colic; and in the case of the man, although he claimed to have been bitten by a "grampus," it was generally believed that the "serpent of the still" was the most deadly "varmint" he had recently encountered.

I soon found, however, that the belief in the venomous character of this "whip scorpion," or Thelyphonus giganteus, as it proved to be, was almost universal. The negroes, especially, are in mortal terror of it. Only a few days since a colored boy that I had employed in hauling wood brought me a small specimen, completely crushed, with the triumphant announcement, "I've got him, but he like to done strike me 'fore I seed him."

"But how do they bite?" I asked, "with their claws?"