Posts Tagged ‘Halloween’

Latrodectus mactans

Image via Wikipedia

Halloween is rolling around, when tales of spiders abound, weaving stories of the danger from these beneficial arachnids.  Take a closer look, and you’ll realize most of what you hear are myths.

A belief in medieval Europe held that the bite from a wolf spider caused tarantism, a condition where the victim jitters around in an uncontrollable dance, eventually collapsing in exhaustion after three or four days.  This myth helped solidified human fear of spiders.  Yet even though we have such a condition running rampant today, I don’t see anyone hanging effigies of Lady Gaga out to scare people on Halloween.

From some reactions to the sight of a spider, you’d think they were carting off young children instead of flies for feasts on the neighborhood web.  This is nonsense: as any adult knows, it’s hard to hold a squirming toddler when you weigh 150 pounds, much less 3 grams. 

That’s where venom comes in.  Like parking the kid in front of the television, venom keeps prey quiet and semi-conscious until the spider can eat or wrap it up for later (this scenario is anecdotal; I’m not suggesting you park your child or stun it with venom).  Almost all spiders are venomous, but the majority aren’t harmful to humans.

Did you hear the one about the black widow always killing her mate?  Though generally not true, this is my favorite myth whenever I need to remind my spouse of the dangers of annoying me.  In reality, of the black widows in the USA, only one is known to kill the male after courtship: the eastern ones, Latrodectus mactans.  Western widows consider it rude to dine on their dates. 

Yet even eastern males often make a clean getaway.  That is, unless she’s hungry – a state that drives females of many species to murderous action.  But if he’s careful and she’s well fed, she won’t kill him. 

Does everybody swallow spiders in their sleep?  According to snopes.com, this myth started in 1993 as a magazine columnist’s demonstration on how anything can be said in email spam lists and gullible people believe it.

Spiders don’t have any reason to get into our mouths, unless you go around with it hanging open so insects can live there.  They prefer drier locations, ones that don’t snore or mumble. 

The biggest myth state spider experts hear is that the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa) is here in Colorado.  This is completely false, according to Dr. Paula Cushing, Department Chair and Curator of invertebrate Zoology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  Though the black widow is everywhere, few people ask her about it.  Instead, she fields hundreds of questions on brown recluse, a spider whose bite can cause a wound that grows but won’t heal. 

Colorado isn’t part of its natural range, but due to the miracle of the internet, many people think it’s here.  Occasionally it hitchhikes into the state on lumber or in moving boxes, but so far it hasn’t established colonies and settled down to raise families.

Learn more about spiders on the museum’s Spider Survey website.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Early in the summer, I dreamed big.  The weather was warming and the spring garden abundant, so when the small package of Pumpkin Pro arrived in the mail, I gave in to my inner child and sprinkled the powder into my pumpkin hills.  Touted as “the secret ingredient to growing gigantic pumpkins,” I let myself believe that this year I’d finally get a gourd the size of a Buick in my backyard.

The trio of bio-products (mycorrhyzal fungi, Azos bacterium, and calcium carbonate), promised a pumpkin that needed a little elbow room, so I planted only seeds with the genetics of giants in that area, then waited.  Nothing happened.  After 10 days, I planted again.   

Over in the regular garden, the miniature pumpkins sprang up with gusto, running over the ground and fruiting like they were trying to set a record.   In the giant pumpkin patch, a small, weak vine struggled up, growing feebly throughout the summer.  I nurtured it, putting up wind breaks and fertilizing it with care. 

The vine set fruit and I quickly caged it to protect it from squirrels.  Checking it daily, I was happy to see the swell of what would surely become a prize-winning Jack O’ Lantern.  Visions of carving the expanse of squash filled my mind: do I stay traditional with a simple Jack face or sculpt it to illustrate Dante’s Inferno

As summer rolled by it was clear no further pumpkins would be borne on the vine, so I resigned myself to one show stopping gourd.  One is better than none.

It’s now matured, with orange blushing its skin, and today, I can proudly announce that I have applied the latest research and cutting edge technology to grow a pumpkin the size of my shoe.  The miniature pumpkins are larger than this.

Stuck without a decent-sized Jack O’ Lantern, I’m forced to go shopping.  Fortunately, the local pumpkin patches offer plenty of fun and a wide variety of designer pumpkins. 

Check them out this fall, but visit the farm’s Web site for daily hours.  Find a pumpkin patch near you at Pumpkin Patches and more

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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