Spooky Spiders

spiderI love Halloween. It’s the time of year when I can leave all the spider webs up around the front stoop and call them decorations.

This harmless garden spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) is not long for the world. She’ll die soon as the nights grow colder. But I’ll keep an eye on her wee ones in the egg sac she left by the railing. In the spring the baby spiders will hatch out, spin a little silk parachute to catch the breeze and sail away to a new home!

p.s. Haven’t heard of the Black and Yellow Argiope? Well, you may call it the X Spider, Cross Spider, Zipper Spider, Writing Spider, Corn Spider, Banana Spider or Yellow Garden Spider. Whew – darn common names!!

Hemlock or Hemlock??


I have never poisoned anyone. I’ve just learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just how the poisoner killed Socrates. Uh oh, wait… it’s a different Hemlock?

Evidently, the poisonous hemlock is a small plant related to a carrot. Not THIS hemlock (the Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis) which is a tree known for its wonderful aroma – a sweet, fruity pine-like scent. Oils from the leaves and twigs are condensed and sold for home sprays, perfumes and some homeopathic uses (often listed under a non-Hemlock name though).

Perhaps the Eastern Hemlock would benefit if it produced a little poison though. Small insects called Wooly Adelgids are munching their way through every Eastern Hemlock in the southern Appalachians. Researchers are concerned that, if a solution is not found, most of the Eastern Hemlocks in this region could be gone in the next decade.

Good Grapes

Vitis rotundifoliaScientists are discovering new species all the time.
If you discovered a new species, what would you name it?

All known species of life are given scientific names. These names consist of two words – the Genus (the group they’re a part of) and the Species, or “specific epithet”. For this grape vine growing in my yard, its scientific name is Vitis rotundifolia (“vine with round leaves”).

Scientific names often describe the organism, though sometimes they’re named for people or places. Names are Latin because it’s a “dead” language so the meanings of words won’t change as people use them.

The names also help us figure out relationships between species. For instance, other grape species include Vitis barbata (“bearded vine”), Vitis sylvestri (“forest vine”) or Vitis monticola (“vine dwelling on the mountain”). Since they all have the same Genus name, we know they’re closely related to our grape.

 So, what would you name your new grape species? Vitis _____

 Here are some Latin word roots to help:
Ascendi – climb
Austr – south
Aqua – water
Bon – good
Callo – thick skin
Carpus – fruit
Folia – leaf
Gluco – sweet
Multi – many
Pannos – ragged
Plati – broad/wide
Purpur – purple
Rubri – red
Sola – sun
Strombi – spiral
Verdi – green