Monday, October 18, 2010

Book of the Week: Halloween Special


So, Halloween's just around the corner, so we at BHL thought it might be appropriate to highlight a species, and a book, appropriate for the season. Most likely, if you had to associate a single species from the animal kingdom with the spine-tingling glee of the Halloween experience, it would be the spider (unless you are a fan of the recent vampire craze, in which case you'll likely choose a bat). Most people, when they think of a Halloween spider, probably draw to mind images of Black Widows, or simply enormous, generic, black, eight-legged beasts. However, did you ever think to imagine a spider with horns on its body? If not, well, you're in luck.

Meet the Spined Micrathena, or Micrathena gracilis (Walckenaer, 1805), formerly known as Acrosoma gracile. This member of the orb-weaver family inhabits the regions east of the Rocky Mountain states in North America. The females reach a length of about 10mm, while the males grow to be only about half that size. They vary widely in color, apparently, according to this week's book of the week, according to age.

So by now you're getting excited about the prospect of a new costume design specifically catered to frighten all the little children that come knocking on your door for trick-or-treat goodies. And where might you get a comprehensive description of this most appropriate eight-legged All Hallows' Eve muse? In this week's book of the week, volume 3 of American spiders and their spinningwork. A natural history of the orbweaving spiders of the United States, with special regard to their industry and habits, by Henry C. McCook (Spined Micrathena description starting page 212).

And, even if the Spined Micrathena doesn't quite strike your fancy, or you're simply worried about inadvertently poking out the eye of an unsuspecting child with your spiky costume adornments, there are plenty of other arachnid species highlighted in this book to choose from. So, in preparation for all your ghastly Halloween needs, let BHL give you a hand. After all, the natural world has much more terrifying imagery than any ghost or goblin story could ever hope to offer! So, from all of us at BHL, have a positively ghastly Halloween. Mwahhha!

This week's book of the week, volume 3 of American spiders and their spinningwork. A natural history of the orbweaving spiders of the United States, with special regard to their industry and habits (1893), by Henry C. McCook, is contributed by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

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