Austin’s awesome animal adventures


October 21, 2021

Frishman_Austin300x300Over the years, friends, family and colleagues have encouraged me to write down some of my life encounters as an entomologist. I used to be too busy for reminiscing because I was always looking for new things to do. Now that my life is entering its ninth decade, I have the time.

To try to recall it all is not possible. But here, I have compiled a few memories that at the time were not as comical as they sound now. Enjoy!


Even as a child, I always was hanging around animals and somehow getting into trouble. My best friend in the sixth grade lived on a dairy farm. I would go to his house and go fishing in a nearby pond. Before going, we went into the pig pen and dug up worms for bait.

One day, unbeknownst to me, their sow had just had a litter. As I was digging, my friend came flying around the corner with one very angry animal hot on his trail. I dropped my shovel and we ran for the gate.

There was no time to open it and escape: We climbed up the gate and jumped just as the sow hit the gate at full stride. She screamed and ran back to her litter. For obvious reasons, our fishing trip was not as successful as usual that day.


When we were both at the brilliant age of 15, my friend Eddy and I were walking in the Florida woods with slingshots. We saw a woodpecker in a tree.

We aimed, fired and — although we never dreamt we would — hit it. It was hopping around on the ground. We tried to catch it with our bare hands. Man, does that hurt. They peck fast and repeatedly.

After he gave us the what-for, he flew off, evidently unhurt. We ran home to bandage bloody hands.


Dr. Austin Frishman studying livestock entomology at Cornell University in Ithica, N.Y., circa 1963. PHOTO: DR. AUSTIN FRISHMAN


My master’s degree program in upstate New York involved working with a herd of cattle and testing materials as repellents and/or attractants for face flies (Musca autumnalis), which were a new species in the U.S. at the time. I would herd the cattle through an above-ground tunnel, which led into another field. About an hour or so later, I had to round up the cattle and run them back through the tunnel.

In the tunnel, the flies would fly off the cows and select different items to which I exposed them. I used thin, strong wire to rope off where the cows should go.

One day, a wire came loose. The wire was about 12 feet long, with a loop on each end. A cow caught her foot in one loop, dragging the long wire behind her. Concerned for the cow — and how upset the farmer would be — I tried to catch the cow. Somehow, I stepped on the loop at the other end of the wire. The loop tightened around my ankle.

The cow bolted. I was thrown to the ground face down and dragged like a rag doll. Another graduate student caught the cow and untied me. My ankle had a nasty wire mark for months.

Another time, on a particularly chilly day, I was engaged in testing a new product in a dairy barn. I had to climb on top of a 6-foot ladder and check something at ceiling level. The ladder slipped, and I fell — landing on my back in the soft, cold cow manure that had accumulated in the trough where the cows stand and all deposit their daily constitution.

In this case I was more than up to my neck in trouble. I was not a welcomed husband when I arrived home that night.


As a graduate student, you did what your professor told you to do. We were evaluating a systemic pesticide applied to beef cattle for the control of cattle grubs (Hypoderma spp.). Keep in mind, beef cattle are not like dairy cows. Basically, they are left on their own for months and are not exactly what you’d call “domesticated.”

We were trying to count the number of grub bumps on the back of each cow. To do so, a large board was used to guide one cow at a time against a fence. I had to climb out from the top of the fence and count the number of bumps.

Accidentally, two cows came out at once. I had to climb over the first cow to reach the second one. The professor thought it would be fun to release both cows before I could get back to the fence. The cows bolted, and I was still on the back of one. I held on for a few seconds and got tossed to the cold ground like a pile of rocks. The next few days, I hobbled to class — aching everywhere.


Trying to collect fresh cow urine for a research trial is not easy if you do not know what you are doing. I did not know. Picture about 40 cows lined up in two rows in stalls,
with their back ends facing outward.

I wait until I see a cow lift her tail to start to urinate, then quickly move in to catch some. She cuts off before I get a drop. I see another cow ready and run behind her. Each time, they shut down.

The farmer watching me finally asked, “What the heck are you doing?” I explained. He showed me how to rub the cow’s rump and stimulate her to urinate.

It worked, but my cup runneth over.


PHOTO: Antagain/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

PHOTO: Antagain/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Because I grew up on a chicken farm, I have long been wary of them. I can clearly remember a particular rooster who delighted in chasing me as a little kid. You do realize they have spurs on their legs, right?

Yet in graduate school, I found myself evaluating pesticides for the control of Northern fowl mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum). This required wearing a miner’s hat with a bright light. You grabbed a chicken, turned her upside down and stared into the vent area to look for signs of mites. Someone else records what you see. Chicken after chicken you did this.

Unfortunately, the chickens do not like this. Whenever they could, they would shoot poop back at my face from the very vent area I was inspecting. This experience was pretty much my turning point for switching from livestock entomology to urban pest management.


My livestock background in graduate school came in handy every so often throughout my career. While inspecting an animal research facility in a high-rise building in Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, the unusual occurred. While walking around the corner in a hallway, here comes a sheep running full speed at me. Behind the sheep is a graduate student in a white lab coat, losing ground to him.

Back in school, I often had to catch sheep and dip them for tick control. I knew I had to stand to the side and bump the sheep hard so she’d fall to the ground — and stay there.

I did, she did, it worked.


During my first summer as a pest management technician, an English bulldog came charging at me as I was about to enter a hallway from the exterior. The door was only a screen.

I stood to the side, and the dog went through the screen like it was tissue paper. As the beast went through, I smacked him in the face with my 1-gallon sprayer in self-defense.

He was totally stunned and ran back into the building. I did not service that place that day.

Years later, while supervising a large project treating all 3,900 buses for the New York City Transit Authority, I had an unexpected event. Late one night in an open lot full of buses, I was standing there, engrossed in recording the number on a bus we had just finished treating.

I heard a distinct growl. When I turned around, a large Doberman (and his teeth) stood about 8 feet from me.
I slowly backed away from him, trying not to act frightened. He lunged, and I ran.

Now, what I did not know was that he was still tied to a chain and his lunge didn’t take him very far. They had planned to release him in the yard after we left.

Still, he was very good at his job.


While doing a bat job, I managed to corral against a window an adult bat with her young. I tried to grab her baby bat to collect the fleas on it. The mother bat bit me.
It felt like a razor blade. But I did not contract rabies, and I never went for the shot. I figured she was just protecting her offspring. Oh, and as a dedicated entomologist, I was able to collect two flea specimens.


PHOTO: wekeli/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

PHOTO: wekeli/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

While inspecting a university’s animal research facility, I had three encounters with a chimpanzee named Lester. All three times, the beast got the better of me.

My first encounter with Lester was when I was sneaking into a dark room to look for cockroaches. I quietly opened a door. Sitting in a cage directly in front of me, about one foot from my face, was Lester. He screamed at me, and let’s just say it took me a few minutes to regain my composure.

For our second encounter about a week later, this time during daylight hours, Lester sat at the far end of a larger, room-sized cage with a basketball in his hands. I stood there, sizing him up at the other end, just inches away from the bars, feeling reasonably safe. Suddenly, he fired the ball — hitting the bars at my eye level. I jumped. He screamed and did four flips in delight.

About two months later, I had to visit the account again. There was no way I wanted to get anywhere near Lester. When I had to enter the room with his large cage, I stayed about six feet away from it as I conducted my inspection. Lester was in the back of the cage, watching every move I made.

I went to inspect inside a cabinet under a sink. As I bent down and stuck my head inside the cabinet, I felt a sharp object hit my backside. It caused me to bolt forward and smash my head (luckily, with hard hat) into the back of the cabinet.

I turned around and realized that Lester had found a broom handle. He had reached out between the cage bars with it in an attempt to lance me. It’s no coincidence that he was nicknamed “Lester the Molester.”

At the same facility, three cute monkeys were harnessed and sitting on a raised bar in a lab. I figured they were cute and harmless, and about 4 feet away. Suddenly, all three peed at and on me.


I was attempting to collect live cockroaches in a gorilla’s cage at an animal theme park. Two animal attendants were holding him at bay with a water hose, but he had enough. He launched across the room in an unhappy mood. I managed to grab some more cockroaches, then shot out the door. Two men slammed the door behind me. Still, the gorilla hit the door and his snot hit me in the back of the neck. Before that day, I did not know gorillas could move that fast.


The circus had come to Madison Square Garden in New York City. I was inspecting for rodents. Two rhinos were nonchalantly chewing on hay in a small, caged area. I entered and had to push them apart to reach the back of the cage. The rhinos then returned to their previous positions.

This meant I was stuck in a small space between the two animals and a wall. To leave, I had to crawl out on my hands and knees. They kept eating their hay, ignoring me completely.

Did you know that entomologists under stress can sweat profusely?


PHOTO: MediaProduction/E+/Getty Images

PHOTO: MediaProduction/E+/Getty Images

Unlike rhinos, hippos can be just mean. I knew that, even as I was trying to decide how and if I should enter one’s cage in a zoo. While I pondered, the hippo in question lifted its tail and fired poop in a strong steady stream at a concrete wall. Hmm, and I had thought only the front end, with its large teeth, was dangerous.
I was done pondering. I did not enter that cage.


When I was in my 40s and my son, Allen, was in his 20s, we went on an African Safari tour. We were told to stay in the cabin at night and not go outdoors.

Now, earlier in the day, I had noticed holes that grass-eating termites made in the ground. I just had to see them active at night. So Allen and I snuck out and walked with a flashlight about 200 feet from the cabin, set on heading toward a picnic table where termite activity was under way.

While we had our backs to the table, intently watching the termites, about eight baboons climbed on and around it, between us and the cabin.

A grunt made me turn around.

I shined the light in the face of a particularly large baboon crouched atop the picnic table. What big teeth he had! I told Allen to put his back against mine, and we would try to slowly walk back to the cabin.

We took one step and the big baboon spoke to us in body language: “You’re not going anywhere.”

We waited a few moments and tried again. This time, he backed down and we slowly made our way back to safety. We never disobeyed the guide again.

However, while on that same trip, I was trying to impress Allen by showing him why Elateridae are called click beetles. I flipped one on its back and placed it on the palm of my hand.

It immediately proceeded to flip over, grab the edge of one of my fingers, and sliced it. Blood flowed. I screamed.

“Dad, be more careful how you handle that,” Allen said.


I had a zoo account that featured a tropical rainforest house. Again sneaking in at night with a flashlight, this time everything was going well during my pest inspection.

Suddenly, overhead, a toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) perceived me as a threat. She dropped a full load on my hard hat. I must say that dealing with that running down the side of my hard hat was not listed in my contract.


A world-renowned tiger trainer boarded his tigers at a safari park account of mine. I had to check the area for rodents.

Before I went in, I was told they were acting a little more aggressively than usual, and that I should stay at least 8 feet away from the cages. That’s the distance they can still reach out between the bars and grab you.
I listened, and concentrated more on the tigers than the rats.


A friend asked me to check a field where the lions roam at another safari park. The park management wanted to keep the lions there in New Jersey all year round.

I told management that, as a tourist, I had visited their park and knew that all visitors must stay inside a locked vehicle. Therefore, in order to have me inspect the field, they would have to provide me with a sharpshooter to protect me while walking through the tall grass.

The next day they told me lions are worth more than entomologists. No sharpshooter would be provided.
It was the only job I ever turned down.


Over the years, I have been stung on more than one occurrence either catching paper wasps or knocking down a nest. But there’s one episode that really stands out for me.

I was in South America on the Amazon River, and our boat stopped for the night. I set up a sheet and black light to collect insects. In the morning, I was knocking off a few remaining insects, trying to put the sheet away. I accidentally swatted a paper wasp. She stung me.

Within less than a minute I was on the ground, finding it difficult to breathe and move. What seemed like
after a few minutes, I slowly recovered. Not too bright on my part.


I was brought on to troubleshoot a zoo account, so I went on a night inspection with the full-time technician who serviced the premises. With his guidance, I was able to pet white Bengal tigers that he helped raise.
What I was not ready for, though, was the feeling of small mountain goats climbing onto my back when I bent down to check a burrow. Later, a large tortoise, feeling threatened by my presence, was pushing me out of his territory on a slow, steady and deliberate path. I yielded to the heavy beast.


While on the Rice University campus in Houston, Texas, I was training the Big State Pest Control team on how to inspect the exterior of commercial accounts. We were outside, and I was walking back and forth as I made my points. Then, I unknowingly stopped on top of a small fire ant nest. They ran up my leg and evidently, one ant yelled, “One-two-three sting.”

I instantly learned why they are called fire ants.

I am grateful to the Big State techs who politely smacked the ants off me, even though now they know that Doc Frishman does not know it all.


While treating in an apartment, an obviously drunk, large man started to come at me with an open beer can in his hand. He let me know in no uncertain terms I was about to meet a very unpleasant encounter.

Unfortunately he was between me and the exit door. In my best Clint Eastwood voice, I aimed my sprayer at his face and told him if he took one more step, he would be blinded for life.

He backed off, and I managed to get out the door, into my truck and on to the next stop.

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