Monthly Archives: February 2014

Spider Myths Debunked! 10 Things You May Not Know about Spiders

spidd3-0043Spiders are not likely to make many “favorite animals” list. They are the cause of one of the most common phobias in our society which is not hard to explain given their prevalence in popular literature and entertainment.

But much of what we think we know about spiders is actually wrong, based merely on myths and misunderstandings that have been passed along for generations.

Here are some of the most common myths debunked. spiders-02641. Daddy-long-legs are NOT spiders. Like insects, they are related to spiders but unlike spiders they have only ONE body part. In addition, they don’t make silk, have venom or fangs. Daddy-long-legs are in a group of animals called Harvestmen. (To read more on this, Click HERE.)

A fishing spider

A fishing spider

2 Spiders RARELY BITE– not because they can’t, but because they don’t–to them humans are not viewed as prey and will not bite when contact is made. Touching a spider or getting one on you will not make it bite you! Spiders may bite if they feel threatened or to protect their egg sac, but not simply because they make contact. Most of those “mystery” bites that are often attributed to spiders are not from spiders at all. Oddly enough, this myth is perpetuated regularly by the medical professionals who usually have no specific spider training and simply repeat what they’ve heard, which, often times, is nothing more than myths.

Not all spiders build webs

Not all spiders build webs

3.All spiders do NOT build webs. There are many different species of spiders that do not build silken traps to catch their prey. Many stalk their prey like a wolf or wait motionless until something comes along.

Spiders are NOT insects though they are related to insects. Insects and spiders are Arthropods, meaning they have a hard exoskeleton, segmented body and jointed appendages. Insects are characterized by having three body parts, three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae and one or two pairs of wings. spiders-2-2Spiders on the other hand have only two body parts, along with 4 pairs of legs. Spiders also have an organ on the underside of their body called a spinneret which produces silk the spider uses in a variety of ways, including as a drag line, for a web, to surround its eggs or even as a chamber to protect itself from predators. Most spiders have 8 eyes.

5.Nearly all spiders are venomous but none are poisonous. Of the over 100 families of spiders, just two lack venom glands. However, it needs to be said that venomous and poisonous are NOT the same thing! Poisonous means the animal or plant produces a poison, that when taken into the body, or ingested, causes illness or death. Some mushrooms or berries are poisonous. Venomous animals on the other hand, produce a venom that when injected into the prey, may cause illness or death. Spiders have venom solely so they can subdue prey, not so they can bite humans. Their venom usually has little effect on humans, who are much, much larger in size.  spidd4-2

6.Spider webs are NOT always round. There are many differently shaped webs including funnels, sheets, and cobwebs. Each spider species that makes a web, has its own unique shape.

7.Spiders eat their prey. It is not true that they simply “suck the juices.”spiders-054

8.Spiders are NOT easy to identify. This might be one of the most common myths out there! Scientists have named more than 50,ooo named species of spiders though they estimate that this is only 10% of all that exist. Many have simply not been discovered or named. It is VERY difficult to identify spiders–and people who do this, use a combination of things, including eye arrangement of the spiders, body shape and a microscope–the latter of which is often crucial to identification.

With this many different species, identification is extremely difficult. A microscope is often needed.  Identification books exist, often basing id on the arrangement of the eyes but this is far from complete.

9.Tarantulas are not the deadly spiders movies make them out to be. The venom in these large spiders has a low toxicity to humans. Tarantulas do have hairs on their abdomens that they can raise to irritate the skin of someone or something threatening them.

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A Chilean Rose-haired tarantula that I am holding…. now would I be doing that if it was dangerous?

10.Brown recluse spiders are difficult to identify and are not found everywhere in the United States. While it is true that brown recluses have a violin-shape on their bodies, just behind their eyes, this is not a reliable method of identification as there are many other spiders that have a similar shape on their bodies. Many of the bites attributed to brown recluses, even by medical professionals, come from areas where brown recluses don’t inhabitant. Often an unidentified bite is automatically attributed to a spider, even though spiders rarely bite.  Check out the  Brown recluse territory map  taken from Rod Crawford at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington, to see if Brown Recluses live in your part of the country.

To learn more, visit the Burke Museum’s website and the pages dedicated to dispelling spider myths which were written by Rod Crawford,Curator of Arachnids. He has been studying spiders for 40 years!

Read about how I overcame my fear of spiders. Click here or check out some of my favorite spider pictures, HERE.

References:

The Burke Museum’s website written by Rod Crawford, Curator of Arachnids.

The Book of Spiders by Rod Preston-Mafham, published by Chartwell Books Inc, in 1991

 

 

How I know that Spring is Here!

egggs-8906When I returned to the little pond on my property this afternoon, I was thrilled to find thousands of freshly-laid wood frog eggs. As is characteristic of this frog, all the eggs are left together so that they form one, giant clump. Yellow Spotted Salamanders or American Toads on the other hand will spread their eggs out so that the pond has eggs all around it. Both are survival techniques of the individual species… putting ALL the eggs in the same place means there is a good chance that even if predators come along to eat them, SOME will survive to hatch out and become adults. And on the flip side, spreading the eggs throughout the pond could mean if a predator finds some, others will remain undetected.

Which method do you think would be more successful?

Read more about wood frogs on my creature feature page. egggs-8908

What DOES the Fox Say?

2fox-098One of the most memorable songs of 2013 was called What Does the Fox Say…this song must have caused a rise in users typing those words into their search engines, wondering what DOES the fox say? To answer that question, let me first tell a story.

Several years ago I was living in eastern New York State at a house that was on the east branch of the Croton River, part of the Great Swamp which is one of NY’s biggest wetland. (Read my article in Country Extra magazine.) For many nights I had been hearing a strange noise outside. It almost always woke me in the middle of the night, shattering my sleep with its scream-like quality. It sounded like the animal was moving as it called, perhaps a bird flying from one post to another. Except that I had never heard of a bird making that sound. Days turned into weeks and the mystery continued. What was the cause of that sound?

Then one night I heard it earlier than usual. Quietly I stepped out onto the front deck of the house, listening for the sound and trying to pinpoint its origin. When it went again, I flicked on the giant spotlight I was holding. Wow! There at the corner of the driveway, just outside of the woods, sat a lovely RED FOX! I was shocked, never imagining the noise was coming from a mammal!

So for those of you who have never had the chance to listen to a fox calling in the night… this is what they sound like. (From Lang Elliot of Nature Sound Studio) Try to listen at least 11 seconds in as the sound changes to the one I heard all of those nights. This is a hard-to-describe sound!

To read more about the red fox, Click here.

What’s that Quacking Sound?

Years ago I was living in upstate New York and working at a small nature center in a county park. Part of my job included time outside exploring the trails and learning about the many animals who lived there. One day in late winter  I was out on one of the trails and began to hear lots of what I thought sounded like ducks quacking. They seemed to be coming from an area out of view from the trail so I set out to discover their identity.However, when I got over the ridge and could see the pond, there were no ducks present. I had seen none fly off at my approach and so puzzled about it all the way back to the nature center. My boss, Beth smiled knowingly when I told her about the invisible ducks, informing me that the quacking was caused not by birds, but amphibians, specifically, wood frogs.

I returned to the pond the next day, slow in my approach. As had happened the day before, the quacking stopped as the pond came in view. I found a comfortable spot nearby and sat, ready to wait as long as it took. As predicted by Beth, after several silent minutes, the quacking slowly started up again. I could see movement on the water’s surface and when I put the binoculars to my eyes, saw the brown frogs stretched out on their stomachs at the top of the pond. There were dozens of them! The quacking grew louder as more frogs rose to the surface, joining in the chorus.woofrog-4

This morning, after a rainy night, I was surprised and thrilled to hear that familiar chorus of wood frogs, coming from the little pond in the woods by my house. It is a sound that to me, is a sure sign that spring is right around the corner! After the cold weather we’ve been having, this is a welcome thought. I love spring more than any other season, with its predictable succession of sounds and events. First the wood frogs, then the spring peepers followed by the grey tree frogs and American toads… I can’t wait!

Where do the frogs come from? What are they doing at the pond? Why do they make those noises? To learn the answers to these questions and more, check out my Wood Frog post. Or to see what wood frog eggs look like, click here.

To listen to the call of the wood frog, click below. This is from Nature Sound Studio by Lang Elliot.

What signs of spring are you seeing in your “neck of the woods?”

 

Are you Stuck in a Rut?

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Let us love winter for it is the spring of genius.

Do you find it challenging to make yourself get OUTSIDE in the winter, when the temperature is in the teens and you are warm and cozy in your heated house? If you’re like me you might try talking yourself out of it the moment the thought enters your head. Go outside? What for? It’s so nice and warm in here!

But I have learned to ignore all the arguments from that little voice in my head and go outside anyway.  And seldom, if I ever, do I say afterward, what a waste of time that was! Instead, it is just the opposite. I feel refreshed. I feel alive. I feel inspired.

Winter has so much to offer!

One of my favorite things about winter are the patterns I can find. The ones in ice are the most interesting to me, with their swirls and bubbles and abstract designs just waiting to be photographed. When I see them I feel awe for the beauty that is unique to winter. The more patterns I find the more I want to keep looking. It can be addictive.

Someone famous once said “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” In winter this is especially true.

So my suggestion for today is to suit up and head outside.

Wear layers. Wear a hat and mittens, a scarf, something warm for your feet.

If you’re dressed properly and enjoying yourself and the season, you’ll forget all about the fact that it’s cold out there.

Take a walk somewhere close to your house. Visit a park you’ve never been to before. Even if it’s just for thirty minutes, it will do your body good to get some fresh air and change of scenery. There are many interesting things to find in winter…

What spots of beauty will you discover?

Change

Change isn’t all bad… try embracing it and see what happens.

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Words of Wisdom for Future AT Thru-Hikers

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“So don’t sit back and watch the days go by; Are you ever gonna live before you die? So come on and leave the years when you watched the days go by, come on and leave the fears that you were afraid to find, cause while you wait inside, the days go by.”  –Lifehouse song

Do you say to yourself, “Someday I will thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.” Have you been saying this for years?

I hope you put a date on your Someday and follow through with your choice, despite all the unanswered questions. I have never met anyone who said about thru-hiking the AT, “Gee, that was stupid.” I may have said it when I was hiking, but now that I’m done? Never!  I am a firm believer that all experiences are worthwhile, that every chance to get out of the house should be seized and welcomed. Such adventures into the world often result in personal growth that can be gained no other way. Thru-hiking is something I will always have, something that can never be taken away from me not matter what loss and heartbreaks I’ve yet to deal with.

Here is a bit of a summary of some things I would change or some things I think are important to anyone considering a 2000 mile hike:

The one question I would ask anyone considering a thru-hike is why not? If you’re truly thinking seriously about it and it’s something you feel strongly about, then don’t let the uncertainty keep you on shore. Jump in! You’re not too old or too out of shape, too fat or too slow. Age is just a number; don’t let it be the determining factor for not hiking. Five or six or seven months may seem like a long time but in the whole scheme of things, it is a small amount of time when you consider your entire lifetime.  So you’ve never camped. Or did any long distance backpacking trips. Or spent time alone in the woods. I met people who had NEVER even set up a tent before walking the AT, who had never backpacked a day in their lives, who didn’t know the first thing about stoves or camping foods… “those who want it bad enough will find a way, those who don’t will find an excuse.” When you reach the end of your life there should be an infinity of great memories playing in your head. You don’t get those by sitting home on the couch watching TV. If you can walk, then you can hike the entire Appalachian Trail, all the way from Georgia to Maine. If you want it badly enough it CAN be done.

at-1051Take time to enjoy the places you’ve worked so hard to get. Katahdin (or Springer) can wait. Savor the moments, collect them like a child collects bottlecaps or shells. There will never be too many, but there can be too few. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Take a ride in the canoe! Sit at the rocky overlook! Enjoy the sunrise! Lay out in the grassy field and look up at the ceiling of stars! Savor lunch at a spectacular vista, beside a pond or at the base of a waterfall. Do take time to smell the roses!

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Take pictures, not just of the places but also of the people you meet along the way. And learn their names. When you’re done and you look back, it will be easy for one to blend into the other. I wish I had gotten the names of everyone who had helped me, names and addresses so I could have sent each and every one a thank you when I was done, letting them know the power of their kindness. We all carry such power inside us– with one small word or gesture we CAN impact the future.

Make time for detours…Don’t skip them simply because they mean even more miles. Most of the time they are worth it… to the ice cream parlor up the road, the waterfall someone told you about, the hostel with the to-die-for pancakes. All only enhance the adventure.

at-7120407 Take care of your body, listen to it, treat it with the respect you would give a cherished heirloom. I knew of people who were slightly injured and pushed on and pushed on and pushed on and then, hurt themselves more and had to give it all up. Is it really necessary to do 25 miles? Must you get “there” before dark? Pushing yourself once in a while is fine, but everyday? It’s a recipe for disaster. Rest, relax, take your shoes off, soak your feet in the stream, SIT and enjoy a snack, give your aching muscles time away from your pack. You owe it to yourself. A strong mind isn’t enough–it’s impossible without a healthy body too!

Try not to abandon your life and especially, all the important people in it. Walking the AT for months will CONSUME you, it will find its way into every moment of everyday and it will be easy to lose touch with, or take for granted the special people in your life. Your free time will be precious and you may be tempted to keep it all to yourself, but don’t. Call your friends, family, those people that are special to you.

Talk to strangers! The boy scout troop, school group, family of 5, well-dressed tourist standing at the overlook two feet from his mercedes, loner, waitress, hostel owner, grocery store patron.. they all have a story and are worth talking to. I was continually inspired by them and found joy in conversations with people whose lives crossed paths with mine, even if they were as different from me as humanly possible.

 

at-0405Don’t be married to the shelters. Perhaps I went a bit too far the other way, but I found such joy in camping, in laying in my tent at night surrounded by the gentle goings-on of the forest and stepping out in the morning, freshly rested and anxious to see what the day had in store. Sometimes solitude prefaces insight.

Don’t drink the water in Millinocket. I know folks in Millionocket will not love this but I feel I must mention it. There were four in my group, with two, who were not even thru-hiking but were simply there for support. They never drank ANY water from a stream or river or any water that we treated with our steri-pens but all four of us got giardia! The only explanation is that we all got it from drinking water in one of the restaurants in town. On my second trip to Millinocket, odd as it seemed, I used my steri-pen in every restaurant. And I was giardia free.

Notice nature. There truly is beauty everywhere, but sometimes you really have to look to see it. Find beauty in each and everyday, even the rainy and cold and windy days, the hot days. Most of the places you see you will never return to so memorize them, savor them, take time to sit and absorb the music unique to that single spot in the world. You can hear it if you listen. at-7160536

My best equipment advice? A steri-pen. What a fabulous invention! Nothing like a cold, fresh drink of water from a mountain stream! There’s no waiting time, no work and no chemical aftertaste or artificial flavors. Just pure cold water. The small one only weighs 4 ounces! Buy the batteries ahead of time and send them to yourself to avoid being stuck paying outrageous prices at local outfitter’s. (Read more here.)

Make sure you have things to look forward to. Even if they are as simple as a chocolate bar, pack of skittles or cold soak in a forest pool, an ice cream in town or phone call to a friend. Make meals a celebration instead of a routine. Have something everyday, even if it is only the two minutes of silence before you drift off to sleep. Some days that thing may be the only thing that keeps you going.

at-7100381In your moments of doubt, picture yourself at the finish line, wherever that happens to be for you. Imagine yourself there. Make it as clear as a photograph in your mind that you can recall at any moment you want. Let it be your driving force, your source of inspiration, your motivation to KEEP ON WALKING.

When you consider quitting, always sleep on it before making any decisions. Your mind will be clearer in the morning, things will not look so bad, you will realize YOU ARE CAPABLE, just like all of those who have walked before you. Imagine me and all those who have made it, walking right along with you. You are never alone, a part of each and every one of us is there with you always. Use us to lean on. We are a big group! And we are strong and powerful and capable of amazing feats.

at-2411Be aware that a good traveling companion is hard to find, and even harder to keep. And a lot more is required than familiarity. Experiences shared increase their value tenfold. The benefits of a good companion far outweigh any possible inconveniences and the only price you will really pay is more laughter, more pleasure, more joy. Few things are really and truly more fun alone. It is priceless to have someone to turn to with awe and say, “would you look at that!”

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Please FEEL FREE to write to me or get in touch if you have more questions or just want to chat about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I would love to hear from you!  Contact Sharon.

If you are interested in looking at some great pictures from the Appalachian Trail, check out the book published by Rizzoli called The Appalachian Trail. They bought 56 of my photos to use in the book!