Now that it's the holiday season, many of us are going back home and spending a night or two at our parents' or relatives' houses, surrounded again with our old childhood belongings. On my last visit home, I rediscovered a pile of Ranger Rick magazines... which were a magical source of animal articles, photographs, games, and crafts growing up for a nature-minded kid like me. It's like Animal Planet and Kratt's Creatures combined! Looking at them today, my old magazine issues from the late 80's and early 90's seem ahead of their time in teaching conservation, science, and a love of nature to young children. The magazine, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, is still going strong- you can skim through a current issue here (you need a Flash player to view). Check out the grasshopper on page 5 and the aquatic spider on page 6--- yes, an aquatic spider! The Diving Bell Spider, Argyroneta aquatica, is the only spider species known to spend its entire life below the water. It can be found in weedy streams and ponds in northern and central Europe, where it hunts and feeds on aquatic invertebrates and prey as large as tadpoles and minnows! The spider breathes by carrying its own oxygen supply in the form of a thin layer of air held close to the body with small hairs, plus keeping a large bubble of air in their underwater, bell-shaped web (see photo).
The next time I'm at home, I'll be searching the garage and basement for another piece of insect nostalgia, my "critter keeper." This is the bug-loving kid's best friend- constructed out of wood and mesh, with a swinging door, it can house all types of creepy crawlies without Mom being too worried about an escape. Most of the marketed critter keepers (and the brand name Kritter Keeper) are made of plastic and neon colors, but I prefer the old style pictured above (and available for purchase from Amazon.com). That one has a rope-like handle, which seems superior to the thin leather strap from my childhood critter keeper, which was re-glued and re-stapled several times because of the abuse it suffered at my hands!