Archive for November, 2010

Science Wednesday: Banded Garden Spider

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

With the colder weather continuing, we won’t be seeing to many  spiders in the upcoming months (not outdoors, anyway. In your house is another matter entirely). For now, though, take a look at this lovely lady photographed outside museum associate Dave Dahm’s house:

This is a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata), and it’s the largest of the orb-weaving spiders in Colorado. You’re most likely to see banded garden spiders sitting in their beautiful, symmetrical orb webs in late summer and early fall, and if you do see one chances are very good it’s a female. Females are  silvery with dark and yellow striping, while males are much smaller and rarely seen.

Banded garden spiders catch flying insects in the webs, biting their prey to paralyze it and then wrapping it in silk.


As it continues to get even colder, the species will overwinter either as eggs in a large sack (up to 1000 eggs per sack!) or as tiny spiderlings hidden in foliage. The young spiders move around by “ballooning,” deploying threads of silk to be caught by the breeze. If this sounds familiar, you might remember the baby spiders doing something similar in Charlotte’s Web.

And in case you thought spiderlings were the only insects flying high above you, check out this story on The Billion-Bug Highway.

Are there any insects you’re still seeing out and about?

All images c/o Dave Dahms


Leonid Meteor Shower

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

The annual Leonid Meteor Shower will be at its height this Wednesday and Thursday morning (November 17th & 18th) with best viewing taking place about three hours before sunrise.  This year expect “light showers” of about 15 to 20 meteors per hour.  Telescopes and binoculars are not required for this type of event, but a few pieces of equipment may make your viewing more enjoyable.  A lawn chair will allow you to lean back and look up without getting a crick in your neck, while a sleeping bag will help keep you warm in the pre-dawn hours.

The Leonids are so named because they seem to emanate from somewhere in the vicinity of the constellation Leo.  They are actually debris from the comet Tempel-Tuttle; and because they orbit the sun in a direction opposite to our own planet, they enter the atmosphere almost straight on at speeds of roughly 45 miles (72 kilometers) a second.  That speed helps to create the intense streaks of light and long trains associated with the Leonid Meteor Shower.

For more information check out this article on the Leonid Meteor Shower at and our in-depth post by guest blogger Jeff Bowell on last year’s shower (this one has some great viewing tips, too).

Or, for a more musical explanation of meteors watch the video of “What is a Shooting Star?” by They Might Be Giants from their fantastic CD / DVD entitled, Here Comes Science.

Save the Words

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Big news, everyone: I just adopted! Not a child, or a dog, or a stretch of I-25, but a word. Through the wonderful adoption agency that is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I’m the proud new mama of siagonology: the study of jaw bones.

Save the Words” is a website run by the OED that’s goal is to prevent the extinction of words currently endangered by their lack of use. Language is always changing and evolving (“impact” has been turned into a verb, and I’m trying to come to terms with that), but that doesn’t mean that old words should just be chucked out the door because they don’t have value. Expanding your vocabulary is always a good thing, and there are some doozies of words just looking for a new home inside someone’s brain.

How about a great biology word like veprecose (full of prickly shrubs or bushes), oncethmus (the loud and harsh cry of a donkey) or frutescent (having the appearance of a shrub. Huh, there’s a lot of shrubbery words up for grabs). Or maybe a history word like vectarios (belonging to a wagon or carriage), scandiscope (a device for cleaning chimneys) or vitamin G (the original term for riboflavin – hey, it’s history and science!) would be a better fit. No matter what you like, there’s a word out there for you.

And once you adopt a word, take the pledge to keep it alive.

I hereby promise to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the best of my ability.

So get out there and adopt a word or ducenarious (two hundred) and, just like with pets and children, taken them out, show them off, and use them at least three times in a sentence and they’re yours (that last part really doesn’t apply to pets or children, but you get the point)!

And if you do adopt a word, pop by the comments and introduce it to us. Maybe we can organize a play group.

From the Archive: Rams and Cowboys: Long Time Rivals

by Tiffani Righero, Research Assistant, Local History Archive

The Colorado State University Rams Football Team will travel to Laramie this Saturday, November 20, to face the University of Wyoming Cowboys.  The rivalry between these teams is not new.  Here are a few photographs from past games between the Rams and the Cowboys.

This photograph is from 1912 when the Rams were the Aggies.  The Aggies traveled north to Prexy’s Pasture in Laramie where they beat the home team 33-0.  This gave the Aggies their first winning record since 1903.

Here’s another game played in Laramie; this one from 1933. The Aggies beat the Cowboys 7-0 with a touchdown pass by Wilbur “Little Red” White to Julius “Bud” Dammann.

On October 29, 1966, the Cowboys (ranked 10th in the nation and with an undefeated season) traveled to Fort Collins.  The Rams defense was key in their 12-10 win over the Cowboys.

The November 1, 1980 CSU vs. Wyoming game was a close one.  The Rams were down with 48 seconds on the clock, but Steve Fairchild threw a touchdown pass with just four seconds left on the clock. The Rams won 28-25.

Can the Rams beat the Cowboys this weekend like they did in these games?

All photographs are from John Hirn’s Aggies to Rams: The History of Football at Colorado State University which is available for viewing in the Local History Archive and available for purchase in the museum store.

Introducing: On the Discovery Docket

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Amongst the staff and volunteers at the museum, our passions for all things history and science doesn’t stop when we leave work for the day. Awesome nerds that we are, we’re forever telling each other about new books and magazine articles we’ve read, radio programs we’ve listened to, and documentaries we’ve watched.

Since it’s not fair for us to keep all this good stuff to ourselves, we want to include you in these conversations. So we’re launching a new feature on the blog: On the Discovery Docket. On the Discovery Docket is our place to connect you to resources beyond the museum that will feed both your mind and your imagination.

What can you expect to find? Well, in the upcoming posts, be on the lookout for recommendations on

  • an exciting, interesting and funny history of the periodic table (who would have thought that gallium could cause so many giggles?)
  • a selection of podcasts sure to spark new conversations
  • a short documentary on perspective that will have you double-checking to make sure you’re not actually suspended from the ceiling.

Curious to know more? You’ll just have to come back!

And, as always, we want your input for more history and science resources. Know of a book that we just have to read? What about a movie or television show? Recommend them!

And since we don’t want to make you wait too long for the first official On the Discovery Docket post, here’s a short film to get you started.

Did you ever wonder how they inspect high-voltage cables? Watch a professional high voltage cable inspector and learn about Michael Faraday, hot suits, and how a half a million volts of electricity can pass over a man’s body safely. Absolutely beautiful.

One Veteran Remembered

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The Museum published a booklet, The Excavation of Lindenmeier, earlier this year. I researched the section on the “camp life” of the young men that worked on the Smithsonian-led excavations in the 1930s. Most of those young men, in their twenties when they worked on the site, also served in World War II: Jim Greenacre, John Cotter, Charles “Chili” Scoggin, and C.T.R. Bohannon, to name just a few.

Bohannon had an intriguing military career. Remember by Cotter (who received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the landing at Normandy) as a “real long rifle” and “Western toughie,” Bohannon was an officer who survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

Prior to World War II, the Philippines were American-controlled. The Japanese invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941, just 10 hours after the attacking Pearl Harbor, and occupied the country from 1942–1945.

The Japanese aerial bombardment had damaged the American Asiatic Fleet, forcing General MacArthur to retreat. Reinforcements and resupply were impossible given the condition of the fleet there and in Pearl Harbor, leaving the American and Filipino defenders vulnerable and without needed supplies.

After the three-month Battle of Bataan, the remaining American and Filipino defenders surrendered on April 9, 1942. The Japanese forced 76,000 prisoners of war on a 61-mile march to relocate them. Many of these defenders were sick and starving.

The Bataan Death March is recognized as a crime of war. It lasted a week, with the captives forced to march continuously in the tropical heat. An estimated 7,000-10,000 people died on the March, and many thousands more died from the effects of the march while held in prisoner of war camps in San Fernando. Survivors of the March recount horrors that are stomach turning. I often wonder about the fortitude and courage required of “Bo,” as he was known, to survive that torture. I also am awed that he managed to escape the Japanese and join forces with native Filipinos to fight behind the lines against the Japanese.

After his experiences in the Philippines, Bohannon went on to become an expert in guerilla and counter-guerilla warfare for the U.S. Military. He co-wrote a book with Napoleon D. Valeriano in 1962 entitled Counter-Guerrilla Operations: The Philippine Experience. That book was reprinted in 2006 and is still used in military training.

Today, please remember to thank a vet. It’s difficult sometimes to imagine what they have been through to protect freedom.

Pronghorn Migration

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Hopefully you’ve all been watching National Geographic’s Great Migrations and are fascinated by the idea that organisms can move, en masse, across huge distances and survive problems of predation, starvation, and weather.

However, as you find yourself engrossed in the migration stories from plankton to African elephants, don’t forget that there’s an amazing migration story happening practically in your backyard (if you live in northern Colorado or Wyoming, that is): Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana).

Pronghorn Migration

Animals belonging to the pronghorn family have been in North America for over 20 million years. Today only the species A. americana remains, and more of those pronghorn live in northern Colorado and Wyoming combined than any other place in North America.

Every fall, hundreds of pronghorn complete the second-longest migration in the Western Hemisphere: over 100 miles from Grand Teton National Park to their winter range Upper Green River Valley in Wyoming. Their summer range in the Grand Tetons is too cold during the winter, and without enough food, but Wyoming has everything they need.

Pronghorn have been making this migration for over 6,000 years. The migration corridor, 125 miles long and only 1 mile wide, is threatened by the presence of people, but pronghorn still make the trek every year, crawling under fences, crossing busy roads, and avoiding human development whenever possible.

In 2008, biologist and photographer Joe Riis was the first to document the entire pronghorn migration on foot. Watch the beautiful footage here.

One of the best places to see pronghorn in Fort Collins is at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, just north of the city. The winter pronghorn population there ranges from 300-450 individuals. However, if you want to see pronghorn at Soapstone Prairie, you’d better hurry. The natural area closes December 1st and won’t open again until March 1st. Don’t worry, though. The pronghorn will still be there.

November 2010
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