There are lots of fun links on
the web for this great holiday, but here are a few of special interest to scientists and budding
scientists. You may remember many of these sites from last year, but there are lots of new ones
- Why do we like to be frightened? What
makes us go to scary movies, and why do some of us like them more
than others of us do? Read about all this at the
Why Files “Things that go bump in the night” website (http://whyfiles.org/026fear/index.html).
While you are at the Why Files, take their
“Horror of Science Quiz.” (http://whyfiles.org/097halloween/7.html)
It will lead you to all sorts of really spooky science information. How
do movies make those scary special effects that give us such shivers?
Check it out at the
NOVA special effects site (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/specialfx/sfxhome.html).
- Everyone’s favorite Halloween flying mammal — the bat!
(Well, all right, the only flying mammal.) There are some terrific bat sites on
the web. Don’t miss the
National Geographic “Creature Feature – Vampire Bat” (http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/vampire-bat/).
It comes with video, audio, maps, even an e-postcard to send to a friend — and after
all, what bat is more representative of Halloween than this largest of the American bats?
You can also try the
Bat Quiz (http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/batquiz/)
to see how much you already know about these intriguing creatures.
What sounds do bats make?
Hear some samples of bat calls (http://www.sonobat.com/resources_newrefs.html).
You can also
hear bat echo-location sounds and read a brief description of how echo-location works (http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/bats/batelocu.asp).
Visit a bat cave in Jamaica.
Tired of mosquitoes in your yard?
Build a bat house (http://www.batcon.org/index.php/get-involved/install-a-bat-house.html)
to entice these interesting, insect-eating animals to your neighborhood. A bat can catch six
hundred mosquitoes in an hour. Learn more about bats from this bat FAQ.
- Your Halloween bats may be accompanied by other creatures of the night, such as
owls. There are so many different kinds of owls.
See and hear different species of North American owls (http://www.owling.com/).
The Chicago Museum of Sciences invites you to solve the “Strange Case of the Mystery Rock”.
Did you know that
owls use their faces to help them hear (http://www.carolina.com/category/teacher+resources/owl+resources/physical+characteristics+of+owls.do)?
Information of all kinds can be found on the
Owl Pages (http://www.owlpages.com/).
- I always thought Stonehenge deserved a place in Halloween — even
though it may have nothing to do with the holiday, since Stonehenge most certainly predates the Celts
and Druids. It’s just the sort of thing that seems like it should be so. Of course,
Stonehenge is the most famous henge, but certainly not the only one, and all are neat places to visit.
The Canadian Discovery Channel takes you to a Mystic Place — Stonehenge,
or visit some of the
other stone circles and megaliths of Europe (http://www.stonepages.com/).
Was Stonehenge a place of
ritual sacrifice or murder (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_stonehenge/index.html)?
Did astronomy have its beginnings at places like this? Check out a
“Brief Introduction to Archaeoastronomy” (http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/cfaar_as.html).
And, wow, what a feat of engineering! NOVA provides an extensive
question and answer page (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/stonehenge/qanda/questions.html)
with details of the engineering and building process.
- Before they had pumpkins in Europe they had to
make Jack-O’-Lanterns out of turnips (http://www.essortment.com/all/jackolantern_reuu.htm)
— and it’s not easy to carve a turnip! You can
grow an Atlantic giant pumpkin (http://www.backyardgardener.com/secert.html)
following these detailed instructions. The world record pumpkin
weighed 1,092 lbs. — hope you have a BIG yard. Be ready for next
Halloween! Before Columbus, the old world didn’t have any squash, or
corn, or vanilla, or chocolate, or potatoes, or … the peoples of the Americas
gave us all these good foods to eat, and more … Squash (of which pumpkins are
one) was so important it often figured in ceremonies or religion. Learn about the
interesting Squash Kachina (http://www.ancientnations.com/Gallery%20HTML/watson_namoki_squash.html),
and other Kachinas (http://220.127.116.11/katsina/default.html),
of the Hopi. Squash was important to the Hopi — young Hopi women
even have a special hairstyle called the squashblossom.
You can learn more about the Hopi at the tribe’s official website,
the website of the
Official Hopi Cultural Preservation Office (http://www.nau.edu/~hcpo-p/)
exhibit on the Hopi from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (http://www.carnegiemnh.org/educators/online/indians/hopi/index.html).
Or try some pumpkin or squash recipes, based on Native American cooking. This
Native American Indian site (http://www.kstrom.net/isk/food/r_squash.html)
has several of these recipes (as well as some ordinary pumpkin and
- You might want to stock up on wolf’s bane and
garlic for the holiday. Can’t find any wolf’s bane around the
house? Don’t know what it looks like?
Get a detailed description (http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/aconi007.html)
see a photograph (http://botany.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/schoepke/aco_al_1.jpg).
It’s good to recognize this plant — not only does it ward off
werewolves (so they say) but it is very poisonous. And
don’t forget the garlic (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MV064).
It may not keep werewolves and vampires away, but it may
help ”keep the doctor away“ (http://www.bupa.co.uk/about/html/pr/050603_wives_tales.html).
Actually, there are a lot of herbs connected with Halloween. Some say the
famous witches’ brew from Macbeth (http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_4_1.html)
is more likely made of various herbs than of animal parts.
You can find additional information on these plants using botany
sites on the web, like the
Digital Flora of Texas (http://botany.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/gallery.htm)
used for the wolf’s bane information above. [Many of these sites may
require the Latin name of the plants; use a
dictionary site (http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict.htm)
to find the Latin names.]
- What could possibly be spookier than a Halloween forest … and
what kind of trees might be in it? My
favorite is the
contorted filbert tree (http://www.ars-grin.gov/ars/PacWest/Corvallis/ncgr/cool/contorta.html),
also known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick. You might also find the
oldest living thing on earth, the
ancient bristlecone pine (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/methuselah/),
which has important uses in
tree-ring studies (http://whyfiles.org/021climate/ringers.html)
for anthropology and ecology. See if you don’t agree these
spooky-looking trees belong in every Halloween forest. Are there
other trees that fit into a Halloween forest? How about oaks?
Trees and groves were
special or sacred (http://witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/trees.html)
to a lot of ancient peoples. The Celts of Ireland even
based their alphabet on the names of trees (http://irelandsown.net/ogham.html).
- How can you celebrate Halloween without the eerie sound of a wolf’s howl
(or possibly, a werewolf’s howl)? And what do different howls mean? Visit the
NOVA Wild Wolves site (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/wolves/)
to hear (and see sonographs of) a lonesome howl, a confrontational howl, a pup howl, and a chorus
howl. More wolf howls (and a few videos) are available at ProtectWolves.org
Natural Worlds (http://www.naturalworlds.org/wolf/multimedia/multimedia.htm).
Is a wolf howl different from a coyote howl? You can
track individual wild wolves or packs (http://www.wolf.org/wolves/experience/telemsearch/vtelem/telem_intro.asp)
through the telemetry data provided by the International Wolf Center.
Or use various methods to
track and study the Yellowstone wolf packs (http://www.wolftracker.com/winterstudy/winter.htm).
Find out about these
surprisingly shy animals (http://teacher.scholastic.com/wolves/index.htm).
Make a wolf mask (http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/justkids/mask/wolfmask.asp),
send a wolf e-postcard to your friends (http://online.nwf.org/site/Ecard?ecard_id=1967),
take a wolf quiz (http://animal.discovery.com/convergence/wolves/quiz/quiz.html)
to see how much you know. Do you think that someday you may see a wild wolf?
- Halloween pictures seem to always have a full moon, but how often
does this really happen on October 31? Will there be a full Halloween moon this year? Next year?
How about a blue moon? You can find the answers to some of these questions at the
US Naval Observatory Moon Phase site (http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services/phases-moon)
(which lists all the phases for 1990 to 2005) or this
list of full moons (http://fermi.jhuapl.edu/s1r/amastro/tools/fullmoons.txt)
(from 1900 to 2100). NASA tells you about the
phases of the moon (http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/question3.html)
how the moon was made (http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/question38.html).
read about the moon’s origin on the Why Files (http://whyfiles.org/shorties/091moon_origin/index.html).
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Moon (http://www.shallowsky.com/moon/hitchhiker.html)
for other great moon pages. Other than turning into werewolves if
they happen to have been bitten, do
people really behave differently when there is a full moon (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1218_021218_moon.html)?
- Actually, I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone in a
mummy costume at Halloween, but somehow I
can’t imagine a Halloween without mummies. Visit the National Geographic’s Mummy Road Show
to join bioanthropologists as they solve mummy mysteries. Or learn “How to Make a Mummy”.
Peel through the layers of
Inca mummies (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/inca/).
Medical artists are using new techniques to discover what these
people looked like when they were alive. This article is too
technical for me, but I could see the process just from the
incredible pictures (http://medialab.di.unipi.it/Project/Mummia/SIGGRAPH99/).
And, of course, Egypt isn’t the only place with mummies. For
the Ice Mummies of the Inca (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/peru/)
the Mysterious Mummies of China (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/chinamum/),
and the European bog bodies.
Dr. Dig answers a lot of your questions (http://www.digonsite.com/drdig/mummy/)
about mummies and the people who study them. And don’t miss
In 1989, the World Heritage Museum in Illinois acquired a mummy from
an antiquities dealer. Without any background information to draw on,
scientists at the museum painstakingly uncovered the mummy’s history.
This site explains the non-destructive methods they used (including
x-rays, CAT scans, and isotope and DNA analysis) to gather
information without damaging the fragile mummy. Special features here
include several video clips and a program that translates your name
- Skeletons — you can’t have a Halloween
without them! Get a
close look at all the different bones (http://homes.bio.psu.edu/people/faculty/strauss/anatomy/skel/skeletal.htm)
there are in a human body.
Examine human, gorilla and baboon bones (http://www.eskeletons.org/)
in detail at. You can build a skeleton from a pile of bones at
The Virtual Body (http://www.medtropolis.com/VBody.asp)
FOSS Human Body (http://sv.berkeley.edu/showcase/pages/bones.html).
Some skeletons are much older than humans are. Look at the skulls of
some of the ancestors and relatives of homo sapiens, for instance,
and see how the skulls have changed through evolutionary time at the
Smithsonian Institution (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils)
UC-Santa Barbara (http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/human/).
You can watch a brief video about how our skeletons are
adapted for walking on two feet (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/07/1/l_071_02.html).
The Smithsonian computerized a Triceratops skeleton. You can
watch it move (http://www.mnh.si.edu/exhibits/triceratops/Triceratopsdigital.htm)
to see how the animal walked. [You might need the most recent version
of QuickTime for some of these websites, but don’t worry, you can
download it for free (http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/).]
- Monsters come in all shapes and sizes and
kinds. What about the
Loch Ness Monster (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lochness/)?
And how about ghosts? The BBC has some interesting things to say
about ghosts, and why we may
“feel” their presence (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3044607.stm).
Some of the most interesting
real monsters live deep in the ocean (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/abyss/life/bestiary.html).
And once, before there even were people, all kinds of
giant monsters roamed the earth (http://animal.discovery.com/convergence/giantmonsters/giantmonsters.html).
- Of course masks and costumes are
at many occasions, in many cultures (http://gallery.sjsu.edu/masks/menu.html),
as well as at Halloween. You can get a beautiful
Yupik Mask screensaver (http://www.greenland-guide.gl/masks/default.htm)
as freeware. See
other stunning Yupik masks (http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/yupik/),
fabulous African masks at
Siebe Eling Boersma’s site (http://www.eling.nl/)
The Universal Mask (http://www.mama.org/collection/afc/),
shamanic masks from the Himalayas (http://www.asianart.com/articles/murray/)
Huichol beaded masks (http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/180-huichol-artwork-masks).
It takes a lot of work to make most traditional masks.
Masks can be strictly utilitarian, too. Ever wonder
how a gas mask works (http://www.howstuffworks.com/gas-mask.htm)?
Did you know that wearing a mask on the back of your head might
protect you from tiger attacks (http://www.lairweb.org.nz/tiger/maneating11.html)?
- Do black cats cause bad luck? The eternal
question, and one that has rarely been subjected to rigorous
scientific testing. However, Mark Levin has taken it upon himself to
examine this issue (http://petcaretips.net/black_cat_luck.html).
An informative source of cat anatomy can be found at
“Cats: Plans for Perfection” (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/97/cats/).
Or you may be interested in why you see those
glowing, scary eyes (http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman/bco/fact4.htm)
in the dark.
How do animals
see in the dark (http://www.ebiomedia.com/Eyes/How-do-animals-see-in-the-dark.html),
anyway? Did you know that cat species that purr cannot roar, and vice
versa? The secret is in the vocal chord structure.
- There are a lot of warm-blooded animals associated with Halloween —
wolves, black cats, owls, bats — but how about other species? Every
good haunted house has a few spider webs
and well they might, for these fascinating creatures are everywhere.
Why don’t spiders get caught in their own webs (http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/art97b/benspid.html)?
Different spiders make very different webs, all made uniquely by a
species-specific pattern (http://www.conservation.unibas.ch/team/zschokke/spidergallery.php?lang=en).
Spiders have special organs to make their special silk, which is the
strongest natural fiber known (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/spring2001/species/spring/Update050701.html#Spin)
— 5 times stronger than steel, and elastic on top of it all. You can
listen to a discussion of the
protein structure of spider silk (http://www.aip.org/radio/html/spider_silk.html).
Spider web silk is
just plain amazing (http://www.xs4all.nl/~ednieuw/Spiders/Info/spindraad.htm)!
A lot of what you think you know about spiders
probably isn’t true at all (http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/spidermyth/).
- The history of the era of witch hunts in
Europe and America is a study in the sociology and folklore of that
time and place. Might you have been
on trial in Salem (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/salem/)?
But it may be that the witch-hunting hysteria was at least partially
caused by the eating of moldy rye bread. PBS explores this
possibility in one of its
“Secrets of the Dead” programs (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_salem/index.html).
Ergot has darkly
affected the history of mankind (http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/LECT12.HTM)
more than once.
What does ergot look like? See pictures provided by the
American Phytopathological Society (http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/ascomycetes/Pages/Ergot.aspx)
- Since many of our Halloween customs trace back to Celtic beliefs,
you may want to check out the mythology and mysticism of that ancient people
and an educated class of the Celts,
the Druids (http://ecuip.lib.uchicago.edu/diglib/science/cultural_astronomy/cultures_druids-1.html).
You can find information on their
art and culture (http://www.unc.edu/celtic/index.html),
or general information about these vibrant peoples, including
information about celtic burial mounds.
Learn how to
build an Iron Age round house with these instructions (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/launch_ani_roundhouse.shtml).
- Have a green Halloween! The Environmental
Defense Fund provides us with
tips to have an environmentally friendly Halloween (http://www.edf.org/pressrelease.cfm?contentID=2364).
- Besides green, Halloween is red, orange and yellow — the time for flaming foliage.
Where is the best display of vibrant colors this week-end? This question and more can be answered by the
Fall Color Hotline (http://www.fs.fed.us/news/fallcolors/)
operated by the USDA Forest Service. Ever wonder about the
chemistry of fall colors (http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/fallcolr/fallcolr.html)?
why leaves change color (http://photoscience.la.asu.edu/photosyn/education/colorchange.html)?
Watch a movie about this process (http://www.state.me.us/doc/foliage/kids/movie.html).
Red seems to be a particularly
hotly debated leaf color (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-warm-hues-of-fall-fol)
by scientists. You can preserve the beauty of these leaves
in several ways. Some of the brightest leaves belong to the maples.
Did you know you can
learn a lot of physics from making maple syrup (http://www.goshen.edu/merrylea/sugar/physics.htm)?
What kind of tree is that? You can also use fall color to
identify tree species (http://ncnatural.com/wildflwr/fall/idguide.html).
Find out more about fall color at
NC Natural (http://ncnatural.com/fall-color/index.html).
- How about Halloween in the stars?
NASA has gathered interesting images you can associate with the holiday.
How about the
Ghost Head Nebula (http://apod.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap011031.html),
for instance, is that spooky enough for you? Or how about
weird space-generated sounds (http://www-pw.physics.uiowa.edu/space-audio/)?
Don’t go trick or treating without knowing how to
navigate by the autumn stars (http://www.kidsastronomy.com/academy/lesson110_assignment4.htm)!
You wouldn’t want to get lost on a spooky night like Halloween! Would Halloween be an
especially good date for a spooky space invasion? Orson Welles thought so in 1938, when he
broadcast the science-fiction radio program
“War of the Worlds” (http://www.mercurytheatre.info/).
What does Mars look like (http://apod.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap951031.html)?
Could there really be
life on Mars (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/marslife.html)?
How do we search for alien life in the universe? Find answers at
aliens teach ancient humans how to make things (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/alienactivity/)?
- Keep your child safe!
Consult this site on Halloween safety (http://dir.yahoo.com/society_and_culture/holidays_and_observances/halloween/safety/).
- For more traditional Halloween websites, visit these websites:
You needn’t miss the fun because of disabilities. Here are
really neat costume ideas for folks in wheelchairs (http://www.bridgeschool.org/activities/halloween/index.php).
Stephanie Bianchi, National Science Foundation Library, 2003.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations
expressed in this newsletter are those of the participants (authors), and do
not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the
National Science Foundation.