A is for Avian arsonists. Wild 'crimes'

I was just reading about how some Australian kites and falcons are known to deliberately spread wild fires by dropping embers on unburned grassy areas to flush out insects and rodents.

This made me wonder about a few things. (Not the least the potential power of large flying arsonists in our global warming tinderbox.)

Mostly about how historically, we humans are quick to attribute not only 'moral crimes (in human terms) to other species, but also to assign blame to nature for a long list of actual ‘rule of law’ human crimes.

As naturalists, what are some other examples of ‘illegal’ natural behaviors out there you know about and what have you actually witnessed?

And how do you think we can (or should) reframe things so that animal ‘criminal acts’ against humans and their properties are seen as something to be understood and not as merely an excuse to eradicate a natural threat?


Well you can reframe your example in the context of Aboriginal Fire-stick farming https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire-stick_farming and how that affects the ecosystem.


Excellent advice!

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach is a humors book that is about this exact topic.


Jackdaws were collecting papers and documents in their nest for centuries:

Corvids are known to steal things, e.g. magpie in folklore will always steal something shiny.


Ah, Ms. Mary, of course! I have most of her books but I missed this one. Thanks for the suggestion.

And alas, no relation.

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I can think of several examples in areas where animals and humans have cohabitated and built relationships. Indian macaques are well known for thieving (food, wallets, clothes, anything they can carry, really). The deer in Nara, Japan are often fed by tourists and can get a little pushy for the ‘shika senbei’. They’ll butt or nibble at you if they’re not getting fed fast enough. Fortunately they’re fairly small and their antlers aren’t sharp. Corvids were already mentioned, but the instances of magpies and ravens stealing money and shiny objects to trade with friendly humans for food spring to mind as well.

Is the thread title based on that series of mystery novels with alphabetical titles of the pattern “[Letter] is for [Crime]”?

I have heard of bears breaking-and-entering into cabins. I think that would be nightmare if the human occupants were home at the time.

I have also heard of bottlenose dolphins sexually assaulting humans.

Not entirely what you’re asking about, but historically, animals have been put on ecclesiastical trial for the “crimes” of their species, usually locusts, rats, flies, or other pest species. Most famously, beetles (specifically the inger, a type of cockchafer) were admonished in 1478 for “creeping secretly in the earth, devastating the fields, meadows and all kinds of grain, whereby with grievous wrong they do detriment to the ever-living God”, and commanded to leave, else they must “appear on the sixth day after this execution at precisely one o’clock after midday at Wifflisburg, there to justify yourselves or to answer for your conduct through your advocate before His Grace the Bishop of Lausanne or his vicar and deputy.”

The beetles did not leave, nor did they appear in court, and they were put on trial. In spite of their defense by a (human) lawyer, the beetles lost the case, and were ultimately sentenced to being “banned and exorcised”.


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