Tag Archives: spiders

The Creatures of Halloween…10 Things You Might Not Know

pump-8537So happy Halloween everyone! I hope you are having a wonderful day and doing something festive for the holiday. Maybe you carved a pumpkin or went to a parade or will give out some candy tonight. Whatever the case, Happy Day!

A Lyle's flying fox from Thailand--these have a 3 foot wingspan!

A Lyle’s flying fox from Thailand

You know the creatures of Halloween, right? Namely BATS, SPIDERS, RAVENS and CROWS. Can you think of any others that deserve being on this list?

Well let’s look at 10 things about these misunderstood critters that you may know know:

1.All BATS do not carry rabies! This is a myth. Less than one half of one percent contract rabies. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from bat rabies is to never touch a sick or injured bat and make sure your children or grandchildren are instructed to never touch ANY wild animal–be it a bat, squirrel, chipmunk, etc.

2.All BATS are not vampires and vampire BATS actually will share their meals with other bats! Of more than 1300 worldwide species of bats, only 3 feed on blood and those all live in Latin America. And they don’t suck it like the movies suggest, they lap it up like a kitten drinks milk. Two feed on the blood from birds and the other–a common vampire bat–usually feeds on livestock or birds. The animal seldom is even aware it has been visited and the bat drinks only about a tablespoon per visit. If a vampire bat can’t find a meal, another bat may share its meal (regurgitated blood) and then, if that bat is ever in need, the favor will be returned! And vampire bats participate in social grooming.

3. BATS are NOT blind! Bats have eyes but many rely on echolocation to “see” their surroundings, more than on their eyesight. Their sonar is so amazing they can detect an object in the air thinner than a human hair. Fruit bats have big eyes and a fabulous sense of smell to find their food–nectar and fruit.

Check out this slideshow of some of the world’s bat species–there are so many cute and amazing faces! And these pictures are truly amazing! All of these slides are courtesy of Merlin Tuttlefounder of my favorite organizationBat Conservation International. This organization works to change public perception of bats, educate decision-makers, and protect valuable bat habitat and the flying mammals these habitats serve.

Medagascan fruit batPainted bat in Thailand--Wow, this is beautiful!!Male Chapin's free-tailed bat during courtshipMinor epauletted fruit bat Africa-- (turned upside down!)Hoary bat of North AmericaEpauletted fruit bat in KenyaAustralian ghost batFish eating batFrog-eating or fringe-lipped bat in PanamaGrandidler's trident bat from MadagascarGreater Long-tongued Nectar bat, SE AsiaMacconnell's bat, Costa RicaOrange nectar bat in tropical forestsVeldkamp's dwarf epauletted fruit batBig Brown bat--one of our common NA batsFormosan golden bat, AsiaGreater Naked Bat, ThailandHairy-legged vampire bat--these feed on the blood of birdsHammer-headed bat, AfricaHonduran white batIndiana myotis--one of our endangered speciesThe world's smallest bat-Kitti's hog-nosed bat, Thailand.jpgLesser bulldog bats in ParaguayLesser short-nosed fruit bat, ThailandPallid bat with centipede--they are not affected by the stings!Rafinesque's big-eared batSpotted bat, UtahStraw-colored fruit batTownsend's big eared bat

Which one is your favorite? Are you surprised at the variety? I was! (If you want to learn more about bats I highly recommend Merlin Tuttle’s book called The Secret Lives of Bats. It is fascinating)

4.  Bats are not pests or flying rodents. Bats provide us with amazing services and are essential parts of ecosystems worldwide. An average-size bat can eat more than 1000 mosquito-sized insects (including mosquitoes) in ONE HOUR! A mother bat will eat her body weight in insects each night. Imagine how many insects an entire colony of thousands or even millions of bats consumes nightly! In addition,bats pollinate many plants, spread seeds, save farmers billions of dollars in pest control, maintain healthy forests, provide guano which is an important fertilizer in many parts of the world, and are important in medical research. Like cats, bats groom themselves regularly to keep clean and are more closely related to primates than rodents.

5.There are more than 50,000 species of SPIDERS in the world! And of those only 1/20th of 1%  have venom capable of causing illness in humans. And guess what? They are HARD to identify–usually requiring a microscope.

tar-0486.You know those TARANTULAS that scary movies always seem to feature? Well one of the reasons they use them is because they are so easy to handle and their venom has such a low toxicity to humans. None of the North American species pose a bite hazard to people–the worst you have to fear when handling one are the irritating hairs on their abdomen which can cause mild skin rashes or inflammation of the eyes and face. Tarantulas can live to be 30 years old!

7.SPIDERS are not “out to get you” despite what the scary Halloween movies may suggest. Spiders use their venom solely for subduing or killing their prey–usually insects or other invertebrates. Wasting it on you for no reason is not likely. Despite what popular media and medical professionals may suggest, spider bites are uncommon.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

A crab spider with a beetle. These spiders do not build webs.

8.All SPIDERS do not build webs. Many hunt and stalk their prey or ambush unsuspecting insects. Those that don’t build webs use their silk for protecting their eggs and as a dragline when moving around.

9.RAVENS have been known to play–just for fun. Check out this video of ravens sledding down a metal roof!

Crows are very smart

Crows are very smart

10. Crows have the largest brain to body ratio of any bird. Like a chimpanzee, they are very smart. They have excellent memories and can find food, move it, stash it again and still find it many days later.

Did you learn anything? Once I got started, I discovered there was SO MUCH to talk about… but of course 10 things is 10 things! So I stopped there. If you want to read more about this you can check out these posts about BATS or SPIDERS.  Or if you want, you can try a Halloween quiz that I created last year. Test what you know! Also, don’t forget–if you are local to western North Carolina, you still have time to sign up for my bat class at the Blue Ridge Community College on November 7th from 1-3.

Happy Halloween!

Our dog Schroeder's Halloween costume!


Posted in Animals, Birds, Mammals, Ten Things | Also tagged , , , , , , , 4 Comments

What do you Know about Spiders? Test Your Spider IQ

spider-9275Are you one of the many people afraid of spiders? Do you cringe when you see one or run the other way? Have nightmares about them?… or, do you LIKE spiders?

In the two weeks that my nieces and nephew were here this summer, we spent a lot of time outside. I learned early on that both girls were afraid of spiders and so I did my best in my short time with them to teach them about spiders, though I have to say that even at their young ages–9 and 13, a lot of “knowledge” has already been accumulated and it was difficult to convince them that I was right and what they knew was wrong.

If their Mom or Dad said so, then surely it HAD to be true. Same of their teachers at school. 

As their Aunt–and one who lives far away– I fall low on the list of people to believe. How could what I say be different from what they have already learned! How could these trusted adults in their lives be wrong!?

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People LEARN to be afraid of spiders

People aren’t born afraid of things, they learn to be afraid–from other people, from TV shows, movies, videos etc. I am sure a huge part of fear comes from watching how others react. If your parents are afraid of spiders, snakes, bats and other animals, so too in most cases will be the kids. As a child I too was afraid of these things, mostly from watching how my Mom reacted to them–to say she was terrified of snakes, and likely spiders too, is not an exaggeration.

Luckily I have changed since then and no longer fear these fascinating animals. I am proof people can change! (Read more about overcoming a fear of spiders)

When asked to elaborate on what I do or what my mission is, I often say I am a Nature Photographer, Naturalist, Writer, Teacher, Lover of all things wild, and unofficial Spokeswoman for bats, spiders, snakes, and other creatures Hollywood has convinced us to fear. There are SO MANY myths out there surrounding some of our common animals. And it really is too bad because the results are needless fear and persecution.

sc2-4385And so, in thinking about this, I decided it would be fun to do a short quiz on spiders, just to see if what you know is fact or fiction. Years ago I did a post on this but I realize that many of you are new subscribers and likely did not read that post. So here it is! Click on each one to see the correct answer.

True or False:

  1. All spiders are poisonous.
  2. Spiders are hard to identify and to figure out the species, a microscope is required.
  3. Spiders don’t eat their prey, they “suck” the juices from it.
  4. Spiders are insects.
  5. All spiders make silken webs to catch their prey.
  6. Spider bites are uncommon.
  7. Tarantulas are not the deadly creatures Hollywood makes them out to be.
  8. Black widow females always kill and eat their mates.
  9. Brown recluses are common throughout the United States and are easily identifiable by the violin on their carapace.
  10. Medical professionals can easily identify spider bites by twin punctures and from the symptoms described by their patient.

How did you do?

If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to read all of the answers, but want to know how you did, Click HERE for the quick version with NO explanation of the answers.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Myth Busters | Also tagged , , , 1 Comment

Weekly Puzzler #87

I almost used in honor of Halloween, but chose the bat puzzler instead. But check out this photo of a spider. Do you recognize it?

I bet you know it is a black widow spider. I took it in a small town in Colorado called Nederland. Years ago I worked at a nature center there and one day a woman brought it in, having found it in her yard. She didn’t want it there, but neither did she want to kill it. I happily found a safe place to release the female spider and took some pictures before I bid farewell. This is the ONLY TIME I have ever seen a Black Widow–even though I spend  A LOT of time outside.

widow-007Have you heard that black widow females devour their mates after mating? Do you think this is true?

This week’s puzzler is: Do female black widows always eat the male after mating? Yes or no. Check back next weekend to see if your guess was correct. Have you ever seen one? If so, where? As always, I’d love to hear from you! Use the comment box to send me a note.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , , 2 Comments

Hidden Drama on an Ordinary Morning

As the sun cleared the horizon recently, filling the world with light, I was exploring a nearby wild space that I frequent. In this place time stops and drama is everywhere. There are no paths or gates, no fees or kiosks detailing the acreage. Instead, vegetation is allowed the rare freedom of growing how and where it will and my presence is unnoticed. Here I am given a glimpse into worlds unseen by most.

On this day, dew drops glittered in the sunshine like diamonds and the wind took the morning off. I moved along slowly, giving myself time to unfocus on the larger scene so I could focus on the miniature. Like an infinite treasure hunt I found subjects worth photographing at every turn.

To me, the “Spineless Majority*” make some of the most amazing subjects. Dragonflies and damselflies danced in the sunlight while orange and black pearl crescent butterflies settled to soak up the warmth. Cicadas sang from nearby trees as red-winged blackbirds claimed their territory.

Hours later, I had walked away happy, having witnessed and captured a handful of fascinating creatures, including the amazing encounter of a crab spider and a Japanese beetle. Guess who won that battle?

Here are some of my moments captured:


Splendor in the grassA calico pennant dragonflyA fly rests on grassLeaf artJapanese beetle becomes breakfast What beautiful colors in nature!Hummm? Sex or lunch? Oh wait, I can have BOTH!A Riley's Clearwing mothA male eastern pond hawk dragonflyA viceroy butterflyThis assassin bug feeds on a beetle More eyes looking at me! An ant tends some aphidsA grasshopper sits on a dew-covered blade of grassA Slaty skimmer dragonflyA Cloudless Sulfur butterflyA damselfly restsTiny eggsA female widow skimmer dragonflyNo shortage of butterfliesA shieldback bugEyes see you! Lovely damselfly A pearl crescent soaks up some rays A female eastern pond hawk dragonfly Lovely damselflyBeautiful eggs!

I hope you make some time sometime soon to GET OUTSIDE and look for some of your own amazing moments…. they really are everywhere once you start looking!

* The millions of small creatures that lack a backbone like insects and spiders.

Posted in Animals, For My Soul, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Just for Fun, Little Wonders, Nature NOW | Also tagged , , , , Comments Off on Hidden Drama on an Ordinary Morning

Weekly Puzzler Answer #65

lady-So the spider pictured has only 7 legs, even though spiders have 8 legs. This guy has obviously lost one–who knows how–but thankfully, spiders can regrow lost legs. The next time he molts, he will likely have 8 legs again.

As for the two leg-like-looking things at the front of the body–these are called pedipalps. All spiders have them, just as insects have a pair of antenna. Pedipalps are sensory organs and also used to manipulate prey. In mature males, the palps are enlarged like in this photo–not for boxing! but for storing their sperm. When they find a receptive female, they will transfer sperm to her through these pedipalps. Talk about an odd way to have sex!

Click HERE to check out the next puzzler. Or, if you’d like, read about some spider myths that must be debunked. Want to learn more about spiders and live in or near Asheville, NC? Then come join me this Friday night for an informal FREE program at a nearby store. Click HERE for more info.

Posted in Animals, Insects, Spiders and other Invertebrates, Weekly Puzzler | Also tagged , , , , 1 Comment

Answers to the Halloween Quiz

Okay, let’s see how you did!

1. FALSE, Bats are NOT blind. Like most animals, they have eyes and can see in the dark about as well as most people. When hunting however, they rely on echolocation, sending out high pitched signals that bounce off of things and return to them, giving them a “visual” image of their surroundings. They are amazing, and can detect an object THINNER THAN A HUMAN HAIR! abatty-2054

2. FALSE Spiders are NOT insects. Spiders are related to insects in that both lack a backbone and have a hard external skeleton. But spiders have two body parts and 4 pairs of legs. Insects have three body parts and three pairs of legs.

3. FALSE, NO spiders are poisonous but all but two are venomous. Poisonous and venomous are not the same thing. Poisonous plants or animals produce a poison that is ingested. Venomous animals produce a venom that is injected. These are two different things.

4. TRUE More people die EVERY YEAR from their own pets than have died from bat rabies in the last 30 years. Rabies in bats is not a given. In fact, less than one half of one percent is said to carry the deadly disease. When a bat becomes infected, it usually leaves the colony and goes off by itself to die, unlike other animals like raccoons or skunks who may become aggressive. One should never touch or handle a bat, especially one that is found on the ground. Tell your children not to handle ANY WILD ANIMAL!

5. FALSE Most bats do not live in caves though Hollywood has made it seem otherwise. Bats do not all live in colonies as some, like the Red Bat, are solitary. By day they hang from tree branches, looking like a leaf. Others live in hollow trees or under bark.

6. TRUE Some bats can have a SIX FOOT wingspan! This is an amazing fact, but a fact nevertheless! The largest bat in the world is a flying fox with a wingspan of 6 feet! They eat fruit and live in tropical regions like parts of Thailand, Australia, and Africa.

7. FALSE Not all spiders spin webs. All are capable of producing silk from their spinnerets, but not all make webs. Instead, many hunt much like a fox or lion does, by stalking their prey or by waiting for it to come to them.

abatty-0488. FALSE Tarantulas are NOT one of the most deadly spiders in the world. They are in fact one of the world’s least aggressive and dangerous spiders. Their venom has about as much toxicity as a bee sting and they rarely waste it on a human anyway, as we are much too big for them to eat. When threatened, they can defend themselves by flinging long needle-like barbed hairs on its abdomen. Tarantulas are amazingly long-lived for their size, living as much as 30 years!

And now for some multiple choice questions:

9. D. More than 1000 How many species of BATS are there in the world? Bats make up more than a quarter of all the mammals on earth. They are the ONLY true flying mammal, as flying squirrels do not really fly, despite their name suggesting otherwise. Instead, flying squirrels GLIDE from a higher spot to a lower spot. Bats on the other hand truly FLY! Their hands are their wings, with thin membranes covering their long fingers.

abatty-05210. E. More than 30,000 How many species of SPIDERS are there in the world? Actually scientists have named more than 50,000 but many suspect this is only about a quarter of all those that actually exist! Amazing! We just haven’t discovered and named them yet.

11. B.  30 years How long is the average life span of a BAT? An amazing fact about bats is that they SHOW NO SIGNS OF AGING. Females can give birth right up until their last year of life and they can live for 30 years! Scientists are studying them to help humans reduce the signs of aging. We can learn a lot from this small, but valuable animal.

12. C   1000! How many insects can an average sized bat eat in ONE HOUR. Bats that eat insects, called insectivores, can eat a LOT OF INSECTS!  In one night a colony of Mexican Freetailed bats can eat more than a ton of insects. This is a lot of insects that might do a lot of crops damage. Think about how much we would need to pay the bats for this very valuable service. Mosquitoes are on the menu for bats so having them around your house benefits you in that you will have less mosquitoes!

13. D all of the above Fruit BATS are responsible for the pollination of which of the following crops? There are over 300 species of fruit that rely on bats for pollination. Avocados, dates, mangos, bananas, guavas, and peaches are just a few.

How did you do? Want to help bats? Click HERE to learn some things you can do to help these important and amazing animals.abatty-1766

Want to read more about BATS, click HERE

Want to read more about SPIDERS, click HERE

Posted in Activities for Kids, Encounters of the Furred Kind, Just for Fun | Also tagged , , , , 1 Comment

Creatures of Halloween QUIZ

abatty-1941Happy Halloween to everyone out there! As a child Halloween was one of my favorite holidays and I have fond memories of dressing up and trick-or-treating with my friends or brothers. Our costumes were always homemade by us with some help from our innovative Mom. What a fun holiday! Here’s to you having a wonderful and memorable Halloween!

I thought it would be fun to put up a little Halloween Quiz about the famous creatures of Halloween. Answer the 13 questions below and then click the link at the bottom of the page to find out how you did. Have fun!

First, some true or false questions to get things started:

1. Bats are blindabatty-2054

2. Spiders are insects

3. Most spiders are poisonous

4. More people die EVERY YEAR from their own pets than have died from bat rabies in the last 30 years

5. Most bats live in caves

6. Some bats can have a SIX FOOT wingspan

7. Most spiders spin webs

abatty-0488. Tarantulas are one of the most deadly spiders in the world

And now for some multiple choice questions:

9. How many species of BATS are there in the world?

a. 300  b. 600  c. 800  d more than 1000   e. none of the above

10. How many species of SPIDERS are there in the world?

a. 100  b. 1000   c. 10,000  d. 25,000   e. More than 30,000

11. How long is the average life span of a BAT?

a. 50 years   b.  30 years    c. 15 years   d. 5 years    e. More than 50 years

12. How many insects can an average sized bat eat in ONE HOUR

a. 400    b.  100   c.   1000   d. 10,000   e.  50

13. Fruit BATS are responsible for the pollination of which of the following crops?

a avocados     b. dates   c. mangos     d. all of the above   e. none of the above

abatty-5326To see how you did CLICK HERE!

To read more about bats, CLICK HERE or about spiders, CLICK HERE  OR, to see some cool pictures of SPIDERS, Click HERE.

And lastly, if you are like me and LOVE BATS and want to help these amazing creatures, click HERE to go to a wonderful website with LOTS of fabulous information.


Posted in Activities for Kids, Animals, Encounters of the Furred Kind, Just for Fun, Myth Busters | Also tagged , , , , 2 Comments