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Newsletter archive > Halloween 2000

Halloween is for Science

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:

  1. Everyone’s favorite Halloween flying mammal — the bat! (Well, all right, the only flying mammal.) There are some terrific bat sites on the web. You can start out with the Bat Quiz to see how much you already know. To find out more, check out the sites listed on the Bat Web Directory. Not only will you find great images of vampire bats, but who could resist Peter’s ghost-faced Bat? What sounds do bats make? Hear some bat sounds (as well as other animals). You will need an MP3 player. Go to the Jaguar Paw Bats Page to learn more about bats. Astound your friends and neighbors with your knowledge of these important creatures!
  2. Your Halloween bats may be accompanied by other creatures of the night, such as owls. You can visit a webcam site and share in the adventures of a pair of Northern Barred Owls (Strix varia varia) as they raise their family in a nest box in Eastern Massachusetts. Rest assured that all of the pictures and sounds that you will experience are being obtained through owl friendly methods. The site also has links to information on rescuing injured owls. Information of all kinds can be found on the Owl Pages, including owls in mythology and culture.
  3. 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. Its just the sort of thing that should be true. There are a wealth of sites of interest on henges. The Canadian Discovery Channel takes you to a mystic place — Stonehenge, or visit some of the other stone circles and megaliths of Europe. Did astronomy have its beginnings at places like this? Check out A Brief Introduction to Archaeoastronomy. And, wow, what a feat of engineering! NOVA provides an extensive question and answer page with details of the engineering and building process.
  4. Before they had pumpkins in Europe they had to make Jack-O’-Lanterns out of turnips — hard work. But you can grow an Atlantic giant pumpkin following these detailed instructions. The world record pumpkin weighed 1,092 lbs. — hope you have a BIG yard. Be ready for next Halloween! Cucurbita of all kinds was one of the most important crops in the Pre-Columbian new world, and often figured in ceremonies or religion. See the interesting Squash Kachina (and other Kachinas) of the Hopi.
  5. 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 or see a photograph. 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. Actually, there are a lot of herbs connected with Halloween. Some say the famous witches’ brew from Macbeth is more likely made of various herbs than of animal parts. The folklore of flower names is indeed intricate. [Note to parents: some of these folkloric names are very “colorful”.] Information on the chemistry of some of these types of plants is intriguing. You can find additional information on these plants using botany sites on the web, like the ones used for the wolf’s bane information above. Many of these sites may require the Latin name of the plants, use a dictionary site to find the Latin names.
  6. Another great Halloween plant species is the contorted filbert tree, also known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Another candidate is the ancient bristlecone pine, which has important uses in tree-ring studies for anthropology and climatology. See if you don’t agree these belong in every Halloween forest. Are there other trees that fit into a Halloween forest? How about oaks?
  7. 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 to hear (and see sonographs of) a lonesome howl, a confrontational howl, a pup howl, and a chorus howl. More wolf howls are available. You can track individual wild wolves or packs through the telemetry data provided by the International Wolf Center.
  8. 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 (which lists all the phases for 1990 to 2005) or this list of full moons from 1900 to 2100). Check the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Moon for other great moon pages.
  9. Actually, I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone in a mummy costume at Halloween, but I can’t imagine a Halloween without mummies. Medical artists are using new techniques to discover what these people looked like when they were alive. The Manchester Museum has established a mummy tissue bank, and is engaged in endeavors such as the worldwide Schistosomiasis Research Project and researching other information on the biology and medical conditions of these ancient peoples. And, of course, Egypt isn’t the only place with mummies. For instance, visit the Ice Mummies of the Inca or the Mysterious Mummies of China. And don’t miss CyberMummy. 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. These pages also contain a description of the mummy’s origin, ancient Egyptian architecture, and hieroglyphics. Special features here include several Quick Time Videos and a program that translates your name into hieroglyphics. For more mummy links, check out Mummies on the Web.
  10. Of course masks and costumes are celebrated at many occasions, in many cultures, as well as at Halloween. You can get a beautiful Yupik Mask screensaver as freeware. See other stunning Yupik masks, fabulous African masks, and Huichol masks from Mexico. Find links to more masks from cultures around the world at the mask links directory. Find links to more masks from cultures around the world at the mask links directory.
  11. 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. Read his results. An informative source of cat anatomy can be found at Cats: Plans for Perfection. Or you may be interested in why you see those glowing, scary eyes in the dark. Check out Why cats’ eyes glow in the dark. You can also read Tidbits of Cat Mythology and Folklore from Various Cultures.
  12. 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. You can find many links to research this phenomenon through the Witches and Witchcraft page at Folktales and more folktales associated with this dark period can be found full text. Other eerie folk tales can be found at Werewolf Legends from Germany.
  13. 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. You can find information on their art and culture, or general information and pictures, including information about burial mounds.
  14. Have a green Halloween! The Environmental Defense Fund provides us with tips to have an environmentally friendly Halloween.
  15. 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 operated by the USDA Forest Service. Also includes “Why leaves Change Color” and “The Chemistry of Fall Colors”. Or check out this explanation of Why Leaves Change Color. You can preserve the beauty of these leaves by following these instructions. Or find out what the trees are missing by dropping their leaves by using the links at Learning About Photosynthesis. There’s something here for everyone, from kids through PhD’s.
  16. Keep your child safe! Consult these sites on Halloween safety.
  17. For more traditional Halloween websites, visit Halloween-online or the extensive list of Halloween sites provided by

Happy Halloween!

Stephanie Bianchi, National Science Foundation Library, 2000.