Special Halloween

Pumpkin Spiders (Araneus trifolium), shamrock orbweavers, though more common in the West, are close relatives of common black and yellow garden spiders. The orb web refers to spinning a circular web. The pumpkin spider’s appearance in October has much to do with its fall growth spurt from the abundance of food this time of year. The shamrock orbweaver’s large, orange abdomen and its appearance near Halloween help give it the nickname pumpkin spider. In this photo, dots like a pumpkin face can be seen on the orange abdomen, and add to its association with Halloween. Like the black and yellow garden spiders, pumpkin spiders are relatively harmless and are not aggressive. They are beneficial by capturing and eating flying insects, including flies and mosquitoes.

Pumpkin spiders

Credit: frederick.forestryboard.org - Tom Anderson

Not werewolves - these are red wolves.

Did you know that there are two species of wolf in the United States? Most people know of the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus), a large canine that inhabits the northern tier of states; however, there is a second species, the Red Wolf (Canis rufus), that is found in very small numbers in the mountainous portions of North Carolina. The Red Wolf is smaller and thinner than the gray wolf, but it is larger than the coyote. Red wolves attain a height of about 30” – 36” and weigh between 50 – 80 lbs. They typically live for 5 – 7 years in the wild. Red wolves once roamed much of the south eastern states but were hunted to near extinction. Today there are about 100 individuals in the wilds and 207 wolves in wildlife sanctuaries. The red wolf is mostly nocturnal and rarely forms large packs like its cousin the gray wolf. The red wolf is an endangered species. The main threat to this species is habitat destruction, along with inbreeding with dogs and coyotes.

Bats

The folklore surrounding bats can make them seem pretty scary, but these animals are very beneficial to the environment for a number of reasons. Most of the 19 species of bats that inhabit Maryland feed on insects during the nighttime hours; it is has been estimated that a small bat can consume up to 600 mosquitoes per hour during active feeding in the summer. With the threat of mosquito-borne disease like West Nile Virus increasing, you can see how bats can help keep this disease in check. Bats also help pollinate plants and disperse seed. They are also very good indicators of healthy environments; you will not find them where pollution is bad or in areas with heavy pesticide accumulation. Bats are the only mammal that can fly. (Flying squirrels can only glide.) Bats use echolocation to navigate, especially in dark places, although most bats have very good eyesight. The average bat lives 10 – 30 years in the wild. Some species of bats are very small, weighing only a few grams. The largest bat, the flying-fox, is found in Asia. This bat can attain a weight of 2 lbs and have a 6’ wingspan.

Article by Tom Anderson, FCFCDB member

Nature Notes for 10/25/2009