A Halloween natural history


Before Halloween became a consumption holiday, it had a somewhat ambiguous cultural history. No one is really quite sure where it came from. It appears to be a case of a myriad traditions, rituals and festivals being narrowed over time into one, and then linked back to an apparent history through its calendar date.

Whatever festival you think it stems from, the general theme is death, but not necessarily in the macabre and horrific sense it has become associated with. It’s also about regeneration and the life that comes after a death, whether it be honouring the legacy of saints (eve before All Saint’s Day, the Christian holy day) or celebrating the end of summer fertility and preparing for the bleak winter (the ancient Celtic harvest festival Samhain).

Like many Christian holy days, All Hallows’ Eve commandeered the date of the Celtic Samhain. And like most modern consumption holidays, Halloween commandeered them all. As a social-ecological system, its transition from harvest celebration to consumption holiday would make a fascinating study of our disconnection from nature. Imagine if kids dressed up as carnivorous plants, wasps and spiders, instead of fake ghosts, zombies and axe murderers….

In an ecosystem, the natural death of plants and animals are a source of nutrients and renewal, a symbol of new generations and new lives. So here is a little ecological photo montage for the weekend, to honour the cycle of life.

 

Even our favourite insects have predators. This spider was lying in wait for an unsuspecting native bee searching for its nest hole.
Even our favourite insects have predators. This spider lay in wait for an unsuspecting native bee as it searched for its nest hole.

 

Lynx spiders lie in wait under flowers to pounce on pollinators as they land.
Lynx spiders are often found under flowers, waiting to pounce on pollinators as they land to feed.

 

A chalcid wasp wrestles with a sawfly larvae, trying to lay its eggs inside the larvae.
A chalcid wasp wrestles with a sawfly larvae, trying to lay its eggs inside the larvae. Sawfly larvae can be extremely damaging to trees in high numbers. Natural enemies, like parasitoid wasps, keep their populations under control.

 

A swarm of ants try to work out how to carry off a spur-throated locust.
A swarm of ants try to work out how to carry off a spur-throated locust. In plague proportions, these locusts can cause millions of dollars worth of damage to cereal crops.

 

Scavenger birds can help human communities by cleaning up carcasses that can harbour disease. These Indian house crows were photographed in their home range.
Scavenger birds, like these Indian house crows, can help human communities by cleaning up carcasses that may harbour disease. Vultures are the most efficient at this ecosystem service, and are now under threat from all the chemicals and antibiotics that many livestock carcasses contain.

 

Flowers have predators too. Butterfly & moth larvae can turn a perfect flower into a defaced beauty - don't be frightened!
Flowers have predators too. Butterfly & moth larvae can quickly turn a perfect flower into a defaced beauty – but some seeds will survive to make more plants that keep flowering.

 

© Manu Saunders 2015