Miss Muffett and the Spider III

In the last article, I asked you to examine habitats you were familiar with in order to derive a set of characteristics or fundamental elements that could be used to describe any habitat. I indicated that ``space'' could be one of these properties. In this article, I will use ``air'', ``water'', ``fire'', and ``earth'' as the other ones. (This breakdown is certainly not the only one possible.) Each element affects, and is affected by, each of the other elements.

As before, let us look at ``space''. Whenever we talk about habitat we are talking about a certain physical volume, in other words, a space - it may be large or small, it may but need not be a box (the space that each of us moves through on a day to day basis is more like a tube with some areas encountered more than others). Each space has boundaries which are shared with the space or spaces outside - a cell has a cell wall, a person has skin and so on. No matter where Miss Muffett is, she reduces the possible areas for the spider since two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. (Attempts to violate this rule usually have drastic consequences.) As the volume under consideration becomes smaller, Miss Muffett's other characteristics become important - is she large or small, what are her clothes like, does she have a picnic basket? (Our volume is not the idealized ``closed space'' scientists often consider. It is ``open'' and therefore affected by happenings around it - breezes, sources of light, etc.)

Now let us consider ``air''. Air is a gas, it has the ability to expand, to fill any volume not containing something else. It can move and circulate, it can store heat and water. As Miss Muffett breathes, she changes the chemical composition of the air, adds moisture and affects the air circulation. Miss Muffett may add fragrance with sweat or perfume; the curds and whey will certainly add some smells. She can radiate or absorb heat, affecting the air temperature. (While these effects are small, anyone who has been attacked by hordes of mosquitoes, black flies or deer flies in the north woods in spring knows how very real they are.) Miss Muffett will also affect the local air flow because of her size.

Consider ``water''. Water is a liquid, it can flow to fill spaces but its path is usually more restricted than the air, it can carry things. If there is dew on the ground or fog in the air Miss Muffett could displace it or create air currents which cause it to dispel slightly. She and her tuffett might be the only dry items in the landscape. Perhaps the area is very dry. If Miss Muffett was hot and sweaty before she sat down, she might be a net provider of moisture. If she is a messy eater some of the moisture from the curds and whey might fall on the ground. In dry areas, small creatures such as butterflies are often attracted to moist or wet soil.

How about ``fire''? Miss Muffett both warms and cools. If it is sunny, the air and surface shaded by her body will be cooler. Other areas may be heated by reflection (think of how much faster you burn on the sand or in the water because of the reflection of sunlight by the sand and water). Miss Muffett changes the distribution of light.

The discussion above has not been exhaustive, but it should give you the general idea idea of an elemental analysis - choose an element, examine its properties, see how these properties show up. Discussion of ``earth'' is left as an exercise for the reader (don't forget that Miss Muffett could be considered as earth too.) After reading this article, you might want to reexamine your own habitat.

It is clear that when we refer to a small (the size depends on the species involved) habitat Miss Muffett has a significant impact not only because of her presence but also her activities. Since bugs are small they can be very sensitive to such changes. By altering the local environment, Miss Muffett can affect the local bug distribution. Our spider may have responded to this change or one of the many others caused by Miss Muffett's presence.

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Ron Lyons (volunteer 1990-1999)
Chula Vista Nature Center, 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910-1201