Whoosh! Issue 29 - february 1999

Spider, Sand Spider!
The Natural World of Xena: Warrior Princess

Forests and Woodlands

Hudson consults with her agent

Callisto names all her rats 'Hercules'.

[55] In Greece, the sun penetrates the thickest places of the forest. Broad-leaved and deciduous trees such as oaks are common. Stands of these trees provide homes and food for many species.

[56] Woodland animals are sometimes featured in XWP. In A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214), an immortal Callisto torments a brown rat that she names Hercules. 'Rolling around like a pair of crazed weasels' is an insult hurled at Cyrene, Xena's mother [THE FURIES (47/301)], and, again at Ares, Hope's lover [SACRIFICE II (68/322)].

What they could encounter in the woodlands:

[57] Dormouse: The dormouse spends most of its time climbing among tree branches in search of food. A nocturnal animal, the yellow-orange dormouse feeds on flowers, fruits, insects, and nuts. A furious Gabrielle may have disturbed a sleeping dormouse when she whacked a tree.

[58] Pipistrelle: Although Xena and Gabrielle spend time in caves, they never encounter bats. Perhaps, the reason why is that the only bats about are pipistrelles. This bat prefers warm and dry roosting sites, such as tree hollows or old woodpecker holes.

[59] Red Squirrel: This tuft-eared squirrel spends most of its time in pine trees. Red squirrels not only eat acorns but also seeds from pinecones and fungi under tree bark. Perhaps when Xena was leaping from tree to tree, she was scolded by several angry red squirrels.

[60] Weasel: `Mating like weasels' is a misnomer since male and female weasels live in separate territories. Weasels only have one litter of four young each season. A `crazed' weasel running round and round in a circle, leaping and somersaulting is not in heat. Instead, this weasel is infected by large parasitic worms inside its nasal sinuses.

[61] Owls: The largest of the European owls, the eagle owl lives in large tracts of dense woods. Hunting at night, this owl calls a far-ranging deep `boo-hi'. In contrast, the little owl gives a shrill, sharp call. Unlike the eagle owl, the little owl prefers the open woodland.

[62] Woodpeckers: With its bright green body and red cap, the green woodpecker is seen hopping on the ground feeding on ants. Unusual for a woodpecker, this bird rarely drums. Meanwhile, the spotted woodpeckers drum frequently - loud and fast. Their red caps and black and white spotted bodies identify them as spotted woodpeckers.

[63] Salamander And Newt: When Xena and Gabrielle set up camp, they may encounter the fire salamander. Broad and flat with splashes of red, this salamander is found in moist woods or near streams and ponds. Meanwhile, the largest of the European newts, the great crested newt, prefers to live under logs.

[64] Toad And Frog: Of course, the Eurasian common toad can be seen hopping everywhere - in scrub woods and on open ground. Meanwhile, the European tree frog climbs tree trunks and branches in search of insects. This frog lives in fear of Gabrielle, since she angrily whacks tree trunks with her staff.

Marshes, Streams, And Ponds

[65] The River Styx, the entrance to the Underworld is actually the Mavroneri (`black water'), which flows from Mount Olympus to the Aegean Sea. The Mavroneri plunges over a six hundred foot (183 meters) cliff, then flows through a wild gorge. The ancient Greeks believed that the waters of this river were poisonous.

What they could encounter in the wetlands:

[66] Water Vole: Water voles are often confused with brown rats, which also live near the water. Unlike the rat, the water vole has a blunt nose and chestnut brown fur. Voles occur mainly along well-vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers and streams. In catching an eel, Xena probably disturbed a water vole, which dove into the water with a marked `plop'.

"Never give up listening to the sounds of birds."
  --John James Audubon (1785-1851), Haitian-born American ornithologist and artist.

[67] Coot: Common to lakes and ponds, coots nest among the reeds. The coot's distinctive plump shape and black plumage differentiates this bird from other water birds. In addition, before it dives into the water, the coot jumps upwards.

[68] Grey Heron: The most widespread of the European herons, the gray heron fishes in lakes, seashores, lagoons, and other areas of open water. A large gray, white, and black bird, the gray heron is mistaken for a hawk. Joxer can learn patience from the heron; for this bird will stand for hours waiting for an unwary fish. Perhaps, Xena learned her style of fishing from observing a siege of herons.

[69] Water Rail: This bird lives on the swampy edges of freshwater lakes and ponds. With its large spread out toes, the rail can race through the marshes with ease. An elusive bird, the rail can be recognized by its call - a grunt that ends in a squeal.

Brush and Scrublands

[70] The rare biome of the Maquis ecosystem includes the scrublands of the Mediterranean area. The Maquis is noted for few trees, scrub bushes, small fragrant plants such as thyme, small mammals, and a variety of reptiles. The predominant tree species is the holm oak. During the hot, dry summers, lightning starts fires that race across the landscape.

What they could encounter in the bush:

[71] Wildcat: Shy and wary animals, wildcats hunt rabbits and hares at dawn and dusk. During the day, they lie up in dens among boulders and rocky cairns. The wildcat is the ancestor of the domestic tabby cat.

[72] Lizards: Wall lizards bask on old stone walls or along roadsides. The only chameleon found in Europe, the Mediterranean chameleon favors scrub bushes and thickets. In the Balkans, glass lizards (which have no legs) bask on low bushes.

[73] Sand Boa: In Greek mythology, Python, the great serpent, lived in a cave near Delphi and guarded the oracle. Apollo slew Python and established the Pythian Games to celebrate his victory. The only boa constrictor (python) in Europe is the javelin sand boa, which lives under rocks.

[74] Poisonous Snakes: A large brownish back-fanged snake, the Montpellier snake preys on mammals, birds, and reptiles during the day. The largest and most dangerous of the European vipers is the sand viper, which has a prominent nasal horn. With its flat, triangle head and brownish-gray stout body, the long-nosed viper can be seen crawling near stone walls bordering fields.

[75] Other Snakes Of Note: Often mistaken for a viper, the smooth snake, which is quite shy, lives in rock walls. Another snake common to the Mediterranean region is the Aesculapian snake. This large, slender, smooth-scaled snake, with olive spots, is often found in stone walls and in haystacks. Argo need not be frightened of the Aesculapian snake in the haystack.

Monsters, Cryptids, and Fossils

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
  --Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born American theoretical physicist (Nobel, 1921).


Was hoping to fly in for the Santa Monica con but couldn't get
FAA clearance

The (in)famous giant bird from PROMETHEUS.

[76] Since Xena and Gabrielle live in a mythic time, they encounter fantastic creatures such as the green egg men and the Roc in PROMETHEUS (08/108). Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, and Orpheus battle the Bacchae and the Dryads in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204). In TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208), Sisyphus invents a monster for the warlords to defeat.

[77] While trailing Xena, Gabrielle meets the cyclops that Xena had blinded, and convinces him to let her pass. [SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)]. Ancient Greek sailors found skulls that belonged to a race of hideous giants that they called 'cyclops'. These monster skulls had a single eye socket. What the Greeks failed to know is that these monsters were really elephants. The eye socket was the nasal opening for an elephant's trunk.

[78] From time to time, Hercules battled hydras. In Greek myth, the hydra had poisonous breath and nine heads. The central head was immortal, while two new heads would appear for any one of the other eight heads that were lopped off. The hydra of myth was actually the octopus, with its eight arms and bulbous head.


[79] Cyptozoology is the study of legendary or mythological animals (cryptids) and finding them. Formerly a cryptid, the mountain gorilla of Rwanda was found in 1902. The movie King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) was the public's first introduction to this great ape.

[80] What sorts of `hidden' animals would Xena and Gabrielle meet in their travels? The tatzelwurm (claw-worm) has been sighted in the Alps. This animal appears to be a four-legged lizard with a short tail. Witnesses have reported that the tatzelwurm leaps great distances while whistling. Cryptozoologists have speculated that this cryptid is either a relative of the Gila monster of the American Southwest or of the giant salamander of China and Japan.

[81] The hairy humanoid known as 'Bigfoot', 'Sasquatch', or 'Yeti', has been sighted in various inaccessible regions of the world. Covered entirely with long hair, the European `Bigfoot' was more human than animal. Greco-Roman mythology called this humanoid `satyr', a half-man, half- goat. Medieval Europeans told frightening stores of the `wild man' brandishing a large club or a small tree.

[82] Since the beginning of time, sea monster stories have been a staple of sailors: the most famous being the Loch Ness monster. Similar `sea monsters' have been sighted in such diverse places as an Argentine lake and the Chesapeake Bay. While spear fishing, several tourists, during the 1950's, reported a monster frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea. The monster had two humps, a tail, and a snakelike head.


[83] Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Herodotus proposed that marine fossils found inland lived in the sea, and that the now dry land was once covered by water. Proof of their theory came from German shale quarried at the Solnhofen quarry, where some of the best fossils in the world are preserved. The Romans used shale from this quarry for their ornamental buildings. When she was Caesar's guest [WHEN IN ROME... (62/316)], Xena perhaps viewed in the shale the delicate feathers of the Archaeopteryx (the first bird).

[84] Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac tells tales of his people's encounters with hairy mammoths. If the Abenaki people of Northern New England told true stories about these extinct animals, then what Ice Age animals Xena and Gabrielle could have seen in their travels! Fossils of hairy mammoths have been found in Grecian mountains. Moreover, scientists have found proof that dwarf wooly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island north of Siberia 4,000 years ago. Perhaps, Otere and Yakut, with their fellow Amazons, will travel north and discover these mammoths.

[85] During the Jurassic Era, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, and North Africa were joined together as part of the continent of Gondwanaland. Teeth of the Carcharodontosaurs have been found in North Africa. This rare meat eater possibly rivals the Tyrannosaurus-Rex as the largest carnivore to walk the earth. Perhaps during Xena's time, there were still a few Carcharodontosaurs to plague humankind.

Science And Myth

"It can be said that story and myth carry the wisdom of the collective subconscious of the world down through the ages. This wisdom, derived from cultural experiences that are part of the universal human condition, teaches us how to live, to integrate our lives into society, and to exist in balance as part of an ecological community. Myth helps us realize the wonder and mystery of the universe, shows us the nature of the world around us and illuminates our place in the social order."
"Science brings to light the knowledge gathered by the collective consciousness of humanity up to the present time. By explaining how the universe functions, science increases our understanding of nature and human nature. Science tells us how it all works but does not answer the universal question 'What is it?' Science tells us how hearts beat, but myth helps us understand why."
  --Quotes from Keepers Of Life: Discovering Plants Through Native American Stories And Activities For Children, Joseph Bruchac and Michael J. Caduto (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1988).


Gods and Their Representative Flora And Fauna

God Plant Bird Mammal Other
Hermessnakes [Note 04]
Herapeacock [Note 05]cow
Zeus oak eagle stag beetle
Poseidon horse
zebra [Note 06]
Athena olive tree owl
Apollo laurel tree crow dolphin python [Note 07]
Artemis deer honey bee

Venery: Collective Nouns

[87] Groups of animals and people have special nouns to refer to them by. The following is a list of collective nouns.

[88] Birds:

a descent of woodpeckers
a cover of coots
a dule of doves
a host of sparrows
a murder of crows
an ostentation of peacocks
a parliament of owls
a siege of herons
a wedge of swans

[89] Mammals:
a business of weasels
a cowardice of curs
a dray of squirrels
a drove of cows
a harras of horses
a pod of dolphins
a pod of seals
a route of wolves

[90] Reptiles and Amphibians:
a bale of turtles
a brood of vipers
a colony of frogs
a float of crocodiles
a knot of toads
a nest of snakes

[91] Other animals:
a bed of clams
a smack of jellyfish
a swarm of bees

[92] People:
a boast of soldiers
a drift of fishermen
a faith of merchants
a riffraff of knaves
a skulk of thieves
a worship of writers



[93] For special topics: The Book Of The Ancient Greeks by Dorothy Mills (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1923).

In The Wake Of The Sea Serpents by Bernard Heuvelmans (London: Hart-Davis, 1968). Heuvelmans is the father of cryptozoology.

An Exaltation Of Larks by James Lipton (New York: Penguin Books, 1977). A study of collective nouns.

[94] To learn more about a given genus and species, I recommend the following:

Animals Without Backbones. Ralph Buchsbaum, etal. (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1987).

Encyclopedia Of Medicinal Plants. Andrew Chevallier. (New York: DK; Boston: Distributed by Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

Natonal Geographic Book Of Mammals. Donal Crump, editor. (Washington D.C.: National Geographical Society, 1981).

[95] Eyewitness Handbooks:

Trees. Coombes, Allen J., The Eyewitness Handbook of Trees (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992).

Shells. Dance, S. Peter, Shells (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992).

[96] Facts On File: `Of The World' Series

Mattison, Chris. Lizards Of The World. (New York: Facts on File, 1989).

Mattison, Christopher. Snakes Of The World. (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1986).

McGavin, George. Bugs Of The World. (New York: Facts on File, 1993).

Wootton, Anthony. Insects Of The World. (New York: Facts on File, 1984)

Preston-Mafham, Rod. Spiders Of The World. (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File Publications, 1984).

Mattison, Christopher. Frogs & Toads Of The World. (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1987).

Alderton, David. Turtles & Tortoises Of The World. (New York, N.Y.: Facts on File, 1988).

[97] To learn more about flora and fauna of Europe, a good field guide is needed. I recommend either Audubon Field Guides (New York: Pantheon Books), or Peterson Field Guides (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). To prepare this article, I consulted the Hamlyn Field Guide: Birds Of Europe by Bertel Bruun (London, New York, Hamlyn, 1970).

Web Sites

[98] General Overview:

The Electronic Zoo
The Electronic Zoo offers links and information for domestic and wild animals.

Wildlife Web
The Wildlife Web covers links and information for a wide variety of animal Web sites including: amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles.

Internet Resource Guide For Zoology
This web site is an index and guide to Internet resources in the zoological and other related life sciences of interest to zoologists

Checklist Of Online Vegetation And Plant Distributions Maps
Maps of flora of the areas and countries of the world

[99] Specific Genus And Species:

Birding On The Web
Sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and Birds of North America, this web site is for birders and those with a casual interest in birds.

The Raptor Home Page
The Raptor Center offers material about endangered birds of prey and the environmental issues which effect them.

The Arachnology Home Page
This web site is a repository and directory of arachnological (spider) information on the Internet

The Basking Spot
The Basking Spot is one of the most comprehensive sources of herp (reptiles and amphibians) sites on the web.

The U.K. Mammal Society: Fact Sheets
The U.K. Mammal Society has online fact sheets for European and U.K. mammals.

The British Marine Life Study Society
The Society is responsible for producing the journal GLAUCUS, a publication exploring the marine life of the seas surrounding the British Isles.

The Shark Trust (U.K.)
The Shark Trust promotes the study, management and conservation of sharks, skates and rays.

The Rat And Mouse Club Of America
The goal of RMCA is to educate the general public about domesticated rats and mice.

[100] Strange Animals:

The Fortean Explorer. An On-line Column by Ronald Rosenblatt:

"Fauna in the canon: Some notes towards the identity of fauna in the Holmes canon, with especial reference to the `The Adventure of the Speckled Band,' `The Adventure of the Lion's Mane,' and some speculations on the giant rat of Sumatra."

This article delves into how nature is used or misused in a story. The focus is on Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.

Strange Science: The Rocky Road To Modern Paleontology And Biology
This Web site shows discusses cryptozoology, and the difference between monsters and unknown animals.

The Museum Of Unnatural Mystery: Lost Worlds Exhibition
Lee Krystek has a compendium of `unknown' animals from around the world.


Note 01:
[101] Since Xena and Gabrielle traveled through swamps in this episode, they would be plagued more by leeches instead of lice.
Return to article

Note 02:
[102] Rabbits such as the `killer' bunny are not native to Greece. Hares, which are, are not as cute.
Return to article

Note 03:
[103] A tsunami is a large ocean wave generated by undersea earthquakes. Most tsunami originate in the Pacific Ocean.
Return to article

Note 04:
[104] Hermes is represented by the Caduceus which is snakes intertwined on a staff.
Return to article

Note 05:
[105] The peacock is native to India.
Return to article

Note 06:
[106] The zebra is native to Africa.
Return to article

Note 07:
[107] The python is probably the sand boa.
Return to article


[108] No dwarf mammoths were encountered while writing this paper. However, several blue crabs gave their lives for the author's Sunday dinner of Maryland crab cakes.


Virginia Carper Virginia Carper
For many years, I have been in Federal Government service, and have been a disability activist. A member of The Squirrel Lovers Club, I study squirrels and other animals. Since my main interests are squirrels, Xena, and books, I am looking for a way to combine all three. I live in Virginia with my husband and son.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE DONE THAT (48/302)
Favorite line: Xena to Gabrielle: "Are you alright?" Gabrielle: "I just had to get rid of my squid friends". LOST MARINER (45/221)
First episode seen: WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Most of season three

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