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Animal Magic

There are a lot of things that you don’t really prepare for when you move to the country.

As Donald Rumsfield once memorably said, "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. There are also known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know.”

We knew building our house would be difficult, and we needed to source water and electricity. These were things we knew we had to prepare for.

We knew it was going to be hot, but not by how much, or how we would manage life without some of the luxuries we were used to.

What we didn’t know, or at least I didn’t realise, was how much we’d have to share our home with other creatures.

Meeting our future neighbours before we started our house build

We’d visited our plot of land many times when it was covered in sugar cane or cassava, and we knew we’d have cows, birds and buffalos for neighbours, but since living here we have realised we have to share our space with a lot of different living things.

Mostly this is tolerable, occasionally it’s a problem.

If you’re not a big fan of insects this probably isn’t the greatest place for you to live. At this time of year particularly we seem to be invaded by every type of ant you can imagine. There are small black ants, big black ants, small red ants, big red ants, flying ants, ants that travel alone, ants that travel in packs, ants that are tiny and give you a very painful bite and others that don’t really bother you at all - but there is one constant: there are ants everywhere. Most of the time of the year they don’t seem that bad but around this time, at the end of hot season and beginning of the rain, they seem to be here in abundance. Leave a crumb of bread on a table for less than a minute and it’s quickly being devoured broken by a hundred ants. It’s quite amazing.

The start of rainy season and hot humid conditions brings a lot of insects. On some nights it’s impossible to sit outside as the lights attract newly hatched insects as they react to the weather and temperature. Many live for only one night and they swarm en masse. Like a drug they follow the light and our main priority is keeping them out of the house. The following morning is like an insect battle scene as dislocated wings, broken bodies and injured remains cover the balcony in phenomenal numbers.

Bees are also common, along with wasps and hornets. Bees come in all shapes and sizes and there is one particularly clumsy flier that’s about the size of your big toe. Having bees around is a good sign and they are good for pollinating flowers, but wasps and hornets are less welcome.

Last year we had to get rid of a nest that had been built under one of our balcony benches. The bench had to be isolated to make sure the territorial wasps didn’t get annoyed. This prevented a few of our usual go to problem solving people from helping us, but eventually we found someone willing to smoke them out and destroy the nest.

A harmless (although not to small mammals) golden tree snake making himself at home

From time to time snakes will visit too, although they tend to stay clear of people. Last year a green tree snake made himself very comfortable on one of our chairs for an hour or so, but he was eventually moved to a more verdant location. Despite my family claiming every snake we see as venomous we haven’t yet had any dealings with dangerous snakes. There are a few helpful Facebook groups that identify snakes or other animals within minutes of them being posted.

The Thai Biodiversity survey and species ID group is amazing, and run by scientists plotting wildlife around Thailand, and Snakes of Isaan does a similar thing focusing just on snakes.

Over the last couple of years our house has definitely become a safe place for a lot of animals, and we do have a lot of squatters.

We have sparrows and myna birds that mainly make their home in our garage roof and surrounding and trees. Since last week, a pied bushchat family built their nest in one of our tallest trees. Without fail, the male is up every morning at 5 singing a melodic little song. It may be no surprise that we are also now up at 5am every morning. He’s got quite a set of lungs.

One of our skink family relaxing at home

Spiders love the corners of our external walls, frogs love hiding themselves in the door and window frames, geckos live inside and out just as they do in most Thai houses, and a family of skinks find great comfort in our outdoor sofas – the indoor sofas have been popular with tiny field mice, and we’ve caught more than half a dozen and released them back into the fields during our time here.

Animals seem to like living with us.

Our first meeting with Dudley (right), months before he imposed himself on us. Teng (left) is now a familiar daily fixture around the farm.

Our latest squatter is a bit different though.

Our dog Dudley is another animal that decided to make our place his home too. Recently he’s not been alone and a female dog has been making regular visits. It felt like we were chasing her away every day, but she’s been very persistent and never gave up.

She liked sitting under the stairs, lying under the car, or finding a quiet spot near the house. We chased her away, she always come back. We guessed she must really have a thing for Dudley.

She started coming here after mating season and we guessed she had a thing for Dudley. She didn’t look particularly pregnant but figured she must be, so when she stopped coming during the day we guessed she must have headed to the safety of home.

We didn’t account for her thinking that the safest place to have babies was under our house.

Originally our house was designed to be raised from the ground, with about 2-3 feet of clear space between our floor and the ground. It ended up a little different to make it a bit more stable, so while the main body of the house is fully supported underneath only our balconies appear raised.

The smallest gap between the balcony and the ground is outside our bedroom with about a 20-25 cm gap. It’s much bigger at our larger balcony and the dogs often spend the day sleeping there, digging into the cooler sand and benefitting from any breeze.

Our bedroom balcony doesn’t cone with the same benefits. Well, that’s what we thought. It seems our little female friend thought this would be the perfect place to have her puppies.

In her search for safety, she had been coming to the house at nights and digging a safe place under our house – and she has literally dug under the concrete foundations to hide her pups under the house!