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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog
20150921 135533

Happy Halloween


Historically nature was a dangerous place. The wild areas were where "evil" lived. Just take a look at the many fairy tales. The witch lived in the deep woods, the wolf was the bad guy and the vampire turns into a bat. So often the unknown turns into the aspects that need to be feared. But as I have written before, much of the "scary" parts of nature are also some of the most interesting.

Though nature is no longer a source of evil, there is still a great deal of fear associated with nature. There are a great deal of cultural barriers to understanding the beauty of the critters that creep, crawl and slither. Halloween perpetuates many of these stereotypes. But nature as an unknown also perpetuates these fears. As culture moves to be more urbanized, there is less interaction with nature. This unknown creates fear of the natural world.

Snakes, as I mentioned before, are very important for keeping small animal populations in check. Many people think that snakes are scary, dangerous, slimy and all around unnecessary. But that is not the case. In fact, except for the first description, the other descriptions are completely false. But snakes are not slimy; they are no more dangerous than any other animal; and they serve a very important role in the ecosystems in which they are found. In fact, you should ask yourself which you like more - snakes or mice, rats, and other rodents. These are the primary food for snakes, and they do a great job of controlling rodent populations around your house, in your barns, or in your garden. They also serve to benefit you in other ways, as well. In 2013 a research team presented their findings to the Ecological Society of America showing that the timber rattlesnake may reduce the incidence of Lyme disease. The team found that in areas where timber rattlesnake populations are in decline because of habitat loss and other threats, Lyme disease is on the increase. This can be extended to other species as well, since many snake species have similar prey species. Let's be honest, no one wants rodents in the house (unless they are your pet). I hold to my statement from "The only good snakeā€¦" that "The only good snake is a hungry snake."

Bats also have a large number of myths about them. But all of them are false. Bats are cool. There is no other way to put that. What is not cool about an animal that plays such a big role in the ecosystems in which they live? Bats are estimated to reduce more than $3.7 billion in crop damage. They also reduce the number of biting insects that are active during the summer nights. That puts bats in the cool column in my book.

Spiders play a big role in the ecosystem, as well. There are also lots of myths about spiders. Have you ever been told that you eat "X" number of spiders each night? Well, this is most likely false. Spiders, like all other creatures, have self-preservation at the top of their list. And hot, moist, dark areas scream danger for most living creatures. Yes, there are some dangerous spiders in central Illinois, but the number of deaths associated with spiders nationwide is less than deaths by getting struck by lightning. I will admit that there are few things more annoying or disgusting than walking into a spider web, but spiders are not dangerous and help to control pest insect populations. They also serve as a very important food source for birds and other animals.

Halloween is a time of fun for kids and adults alike. It is a time for scaring people, but hopefully we can dispel some of the myths that are out there about nature.

If you have any questions please contact Jason Haupt jdhaupt@illinois.edu.



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