National Geographic : 1993 Oct
On Television Pouches and Punches: Life in a Kangaroo Mob Is the young kangaroo below (A) nuzzling her mother in fond greeting or (B) licking drops of saliva and half-digested grass from her mother's face? Scientists agree that (B) is cor rect, though they can only speculate about the biological advantage. Yet such winsome poses helped endear kangaroos to filmmakers Jan Alden hoven and Glen Carruthers. The Australian wife-and-husband team spent a year living among a mob of 60 eastern gray kangaroos in a remote valley in New South Wales, where each day they went walk about with these intriguing marsu pials. Their film, "Valley of the Dreaded Kiss of the Black Widow Spider -L was having trouble breathing. The pain was getting so intense. ... I was starting to have severe headaches," recalls Bryan Chadd of Phoenix, Arizona, who unwittingly took a female black widow to bed with him. Bitten near the heart, he endured a body racking bout with her poison. The tangled web of encounters between the femme fatale with the red hourglass tattoo on her belly and her victims is the stuff of EXPLORER's "Bite of the Black Widow" -spooky fare for arachno phobes on Halloween night. This highly venomous lady often devours her paramour after mating, then keeps the spiders coming: She produces a series of egg sacs, each coddling hundreds of future spider lings in the silken ball (above). A few weeks later the neighborhood's spider population explodes. Black widows are found in every U. S. state except Alaska. They thrive in the hot climate of the Southwest-especially in cities like Tucson and Phoenix, where irri gated lawns attract insects, the spider's prey. Lurking in dark, sheltered places, black widows con centrate in numbers up to a hundred times as high as in the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Only the female threatens human beings. A chemical-warfare special ist, she injects a neurotoxin that attacks millions of points in the body where nerves meet muscles, causing the muscles to seize up in a massive charley horse that may last for days. Children, the elderly, and those with high blood pressure may have a more severe reaction, though death is rare-a comforting thought. Is there a remedy? The film drops in on one family, the Kristensens, whose business is to "milk" black widows of their venom-the key ingredient in making an antivenin, the only known antidote. Using the venom collected from 28,000 spi ders, a pharmaceutical company stirs up one giant batch of anti venin-enough for the whole coun try-every five years. Meanwhile, the hatched spider lings are riding the wind on a silken thread, an action known as "bal looning." Where they land is entire ly up to chance. "Bite of the Black Widow" airs October 31 on EXPLORER, TBS Superstation, 9p.m. ET. JANALDENHOVEN Kangaroos," brings into focus mem orable real-life animal characters. Columbine is the distracted, for getful mother, and Jaffa is her joey, often left alone in a dangerous world. The watchful Eucalypt teach es Sunshade to dive into her pouch at first alarm. Cedar, the boss roo, spends his days checking on fertile females and sizing up his main rival, Ursid, who bides his time. It's a kangaroo soap opera. "Valley of the Kangaroos" is an Octo ber selection of the National Geographic Video Club. NATIONALGEOGRAPHICEXPLORERAIRS ON TBS SUPERSTATION,SUNDAYSAT 9 P.M. ET . NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSPECIALSAIR ON PBS; CHECKLOCALLISTINGS. FOR INFORMATIONON NATIONALGEOGRAPHICVIDEOS, CALL1-800 -343-6610, MONDAYTHROUGHFRIDAY,8 A.M . TO 5 P.M. ET, IN THE U. S. AND CANADAONLY.