October is my favorite month, and I’m so excited it’s finally here again! In every day of this month there’s always something beautiful to experience with all five senses – it just makes me happy. Of course there’s the typical experiences: watching the leaves change, tasting the harvest, feeling the crisp air, smelling the aroma of the previous three, and listening to the call of birds as they head south. There’s more to October than just those few delights, however – though to be honest, that would be enough – so here’s 14 natural events that occur in October and what you can expect to see this month:
Did you know?: October takes its name from the Latin octo, or eight, for on the old Roman calendar, this was the eighth month of the year. Some early Native American tribes called this the month of the Full Travel Moon or the Full Dying Grass Moon.
1. Night sky
October is a magical time to study the heavens; the sky is clear, the air is brisk, the Milky Way is clearly visible, and all the planets are coming back into view. Plus, the nights are getting longer; sunset comes two minutes earlier each evening this month. Here are a few starry objects to look for:
Pegasus Square – The fall sky is anchored by the large Square of Pegasus. Four bright stars make up the corners. On one side are two diagonal sets of stars; one set points to Scheat, the other to Markab. Look here for a map of the brightest stars and constellations this month.
Harvest Moon – In the early autumn, the time between successive moon rises is relatively short in the Northern Hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, so full – or nearly full – moons can be seen rising soon after sunset on several consecutive evenings. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon because its bright moonlight allows farmers additional time after sunset to bring in their crops. Normally the Harvest Moon falls in September during the Corn Moon, but once every 3 years, October’s Travel/Dying Moon is also called the Harvest Moon.
Orionids – The Orionid meteor shower peaks this month, producing about 20 meteors per hour. For the best way to view the meteor showers of each month – when and where to look – visit here.
Andromeda Galaxy – For those with telescopes, this is the best time to view the Andromeda Galaxy, our closest neighbor to our own Milky Way galaxy.
2. California quail
In cold climates, California quail are beginning to band together. Quick-footed little families merge into boisterous coveys of bobbing heads and flashing wings. In the wild, as many as 200 quail may flock for the winter season; in urban areas, most groups number in the teens. This time of year they feed on the seeds of clover, lupine, vetch, and grass as well as grapes, acorns, and berries.
3. Mating season
Brown trout are spawning. Elk, white-tailed deer and pronghorn are in rut. Moose are making big love. Porcupines are doing it very, very carefully. Be safe while driving at night, as the urge for mating mammals to reproduce outweighs the fear of moving vehicles. For those of you that live near their habitats, you may find more of these creatures out and about near roads this time of year – except the trout.
Fall cankerworms are emerging from their cocoons as adult moths eager to mate. The dull gray, wingless females climb tree trunks to await the winged, striped males and then lay clusters of barrel-shaped eggs, which will hatch in mid-spring. Fall cankerworm larvae, called inchworms, are a favorite meal of orioles and other migratory songbirds.
Did you know?: Mottephobia is a fear of moths. It was long believed that moths were the souls of the dead flinging themselves against the windows of the living.
5. Amazing scents
Autumn smells so very delicious, sometimes unexpectedly so. Aside from the nostalgia, the nose-tickling bouquet of fallen leaves and the heady spice of marigolds and mums, you might sniff out yummy, licorice-smelling lavender hyssop leaves, carrot-scented Queen Anne’s lace, the sharp turpentine rush of aster leaves, and the freaky pizza scent of wild bergamot seed heads.
6. Woolly bear caterpillars
You should start to see more of these crawling around as they seek out their winter shelter. Legend has it that the wider the woolly bear caterpillar’s orange-brown middle band, the milder the impending winter. But the woolly bear’s famous prognosticating band is actually an indicator of age: the wider the band, the earlier in the season the woolly bear was hathched. And, as early hatches indicate a warm and early spring, the woolly bear does indeed war the weather in its wool, but it’s last season’s pattern, not the next.
7. Wood stork
Wood storks begin to breed as early as October. They recognize when it’s time to breed based on the drop in temperature of the fresh water that they feed in. As the water gets colder, the amount of fish increases, allowing the wood stork to stock up on nutrients. This in turn signals a time to breed. A cool piece of trivia regarding the wood stork – the only stork native to North America – is that it finds its food by touch, or tacto-location. When a fish brushes against its highly sensitive beak, the beak snaps shut in about 25 milliseconds, one of the fastest reflexes known in the animal kingdom.
Spider webs are everywhere right now, and I mean EVERYWHERE. (I’m not talking about those houses that use fake webs as Halloween decorations, either.) And the spiders who are responsible for those webs aren’t far behind. Spiders have a crucial, seasonal timetable/deadline. They hatch in spring, and then reproduce and die in the fall. In early summer they keep a low profile (to keep from getting eaten), but around this time of year the survivors are now big enough to start spinning their webs. They’re in a hurry, too, because females need to get those eggs laid before they die. Remember Charlotte’s Web?
Try not to kill them if possible. They are better at keeping away more insect pests than birds and bats combined, and most of them are harmless (unless you live in Australia). Keep in mind that they’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone, and they’ll be dead by winter anyway. If you live in an area where October also brings out the invasive stink bugs from China that are devastating apple crops, then you definitely don’t want to kill spiders. With no natural predators here in the states, garden spiders are the only creatures, so far, that have consistently been able to defeat them.
9. Daddy long legs
If you’ve ever camped in the woods during Fall, after a recent rainfall and while there’s a total covering of leaf liter on the ground, then you’re overly familiar with this creature. The forest floor covered in wet or damp dead leaves (decaying organic matter) is their prime habitat. Daddy long legs are also known as “harvestmen,” because they are more conspicuous during the harvest season. Also when you see them, it’s because they, too, are out and about – harvesting for food.
The daddy long legs spider is really not a spider at all, but rather a phalangid, an order of insects that sports eight outrageously long, slender appendages. Those extensive extensions are kept super busy, as they are used to fight, fornicate, and flee. When male daddy long legs fight, they literally twist each other’s legs. The loser is the one whose leg comes off first. During mating, the male uses it’s first four legs to hold down the female and his other four to fight off those who would intrude upon the act. He then uses all eight legs to keep her caged in place until she lays the eggs – ensuring his reproductive success. Lastly, their legs can help save their lives. If a predator grabs hold, a foul secretion quirts from the base of the second pair of legs, and if that doesn’t work, they simply “leg it” out of there by disengaging the trapped appendage altogether and running away.
10. Migrating ground-dwellers
Rattlesnakes are slithering together to form communal hibernation knots in burrows and under cliffs. Worms are migrating downward, and frogs and turtles are heading into deeper, colder water because cold water holds more oxygen than warm water.
11. White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer are in rut. Found throughout the United States (except Alaska, California, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii), as well as in Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America, white-tailed deer can live just about anywhere and eat just about anything. Their diet includes clover, grasses, cacti, acorns, mushrooms, field mice, and ground nesting birds.
Did you know?: A population of white-tailed deer in upstate New York is entirely white, though not albino.
12. Mule deer
Mule deer are forming into herds that will stay together until the Vernal Equinox. They polygamous bucks are perusing the herd for potential mates, and the pugilistic does are sparring among themselves. Mule deer, which are found west of the Missouri River, are quite combative, particularly the does. While the bucks generally battle only during rutting season, the does are contentious most of the year. So throughout spring and summer, mule deer travel in small, segregated groups – a single female with her offspring; males in groups of two or three – and come together only for the fall rut and winter season.
13. Changing trees
Obviously, October is peak time for fall foliage. Shorter days and falling temperatures signal many plants to withdraw chlorophyll from their leaves, revealing the yellow and red colors that have built up in their leaves during summer. Anthocyanins give leaves their red, purple, and blue colors; anthoxanthins create the yellow and pale-hued leaves; and carotenoids are responsible for the orange shades.
Oak trees are producing acorns at a rapid pace, but only if the tree is at least 25 years old. When an oak tree reaches 80, you can expect up to 2000 acorns dropping from that tree in a single season.
Most deciduous trees across the country become barren sometime in October – by November for those in the deep South – losing their leaves to conserve water. This helps to guard against freezing in the winter to come.
The local squirrel population is insanely busy this time of year. Each one is working almost constantly from sun up to sun down every day. If you have a favorite squirrel that likes to visit your porch in search of handouts, he/she may not be visiting as much this month. It sounds counter productive, but if you have at least one oak tree in your yard, they’re more attracted to the acorns on the ground around it as children are to the candy on the ground under a broken piñata. Until those acorns are properly hoarded, your “treats” are not a priority.
If you watch the squirrels you’ll notice how they work. They disperse their food in many places to ensure that the entire year’s supply will not be lost if another animal finds a cache. Squirrels mark the nuts with their scent by rubbing them on their face or licking them. This procedure makes the nuts easier to locate later. And when burying, they dig a shallow pit, place the food in it, and cover it with debris. Watching a squirrel cover up its hiding place is actually kinda cute.