The Meaning of Honeymoon, Amazing Bats and Saturn and Cicadas

A look at June weddings, bat sightings, Saturn, cicadas and other phenomena of summer.

| June/July 1995

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    Much maligned and misunderstood, the amazing bat is actually a voracious devourer of insect pests.

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Where Does "Honeymoon" Come From?

Since weddings are a wonderful beginning, let's begin with them. Weddings are of course most traditionally held in June. No doubt the primary reason for this is the month's clement weather (along with, in modern times, the fact that by June or late June graduations from college and high school are over). But can the word "honeymoon" be traced back to an aspect of nature in June?

Apparently, the term "honeymoon" originally referred to the Full Moon of the wedding or the rest of the lunar month (waning moon) after it. But where does the "honey" come from? One suggestion is that the honey is simply a term of endearment (the honeymoon is the moon or month specially for you and your sweetheart). Another suggestion cites the old tradition in some European countries of having the newlyweds take a drink of mead (honey wine) every day for a month after the wedding. Both of these ideas seem rather attractive and reasonably probable. But some scholars think that "honeymoon" is merely a corruption of "hymeneal," the word for the wedding songs. (The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in "To a Skylark": Chorus Hymeneal/Or triumphal chant/Matched with throe would be all But an empty vaunt/A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.)

However, astronomy writer Guy Ottewell points out a possible origin for "honeymoon" which connects it very intimately to an aspect of nature in June. Ottewell notes that the full moon of June (sometimes called the Rose Moon, Flower Moon, or Strawberry Moon) is typically the one which occurs nearest to the summer solstice—the first day of summer. Now, because the Sun passes highest across our sky at summer solstice (at least as seen from lands at mid-northern latitudes, like the U.S. and Europe), we know that the full moon around that time must be the one which passes lowest across our sky. (This is because the full moon always occurs when the moon is directly opposite the Sun in the heavens—thus the full moon is farthest south when the Sun is farthest north). And what appearance does the full moon take on when it appears low in the sky? If there is haze present—as there usually is on June nights—the low moon will be dimmed and turned to a rich golden color: a honey gold.

So perhaps the honeymoon is those nights of June when a honey-colored moon floats low in the southern sky.

Not Blind, Crazy, or Evil, Just a Bat

It's not just the golden moon that lives in the summer skies. So too does one of Earth's most unusual creatures, an animal which has probably been maligned and misunderstood more than any other: the bat.

Bats are not just the only mammals which can truly fly. About one-fifth of all mammal species in the world are bats. About 100 species of bat are found in North America. And the numbers of individual bats can be enormous: Some particular cave colonies in Texas consist of up to 20 million bats. But their fearsome reputation is not at all warranted. The vampire bat, that most feared member of the family, bothers livestock, not people. Rabid bats arc dangerous, but other mammals that could bite you are just as likely to be infected.

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