Hubble bubble. When we think of Halloween, we conjure up visions of witches, warlocks, broomsticks and potions right? But what about this haunting holidays’ unsung heroes of the animal kingdom? What freakish facts can we conjure up about them, or are there stranger things?
With the help of top children’s author Adam Frost and his latest book: “The Awesome Book of Animals” (Bloomsbury). We give you 11 creepy, crawly, weird and wonderful facts about Halloween animals.
Toads and frogs
These slimy amphibians come in all shapes, sizes and numbers, not to mention varying degrees of threatening talents. For example, the horror frog breaks its own bones to shoot claws through its skin. Enough to make anyone croak.
Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 to contain beetles that were eating crops. Now there are over a billion of them. They are huge, poisonous, and eat everything, including pet food, which they steal from bowls outside people's houses.
Parachute frogs not only live in trees, they glide from one to another using their webbed feet.
If you swallow just one drop of a poison dart frogs’ poison, you have less than five minutes to live. And there’s no antidote either.
Rats are great swimmers and have been filmed scuttling out of toilets in the UK. Don’t look down! They also wee on their food. Why? Rats cannot vomit, so to ensure their food is safe, they soak it in their own pee. Tasty.
Owls can turn their heads almost all of the way around, so they can spot prey all around them, and almost completely behind them.
Unlike most birds, Owls are the ninjas of the skies. They make virtually no noise when they fly. How? They have special feathers that break turbulence into smaller currents, which reduces sound. They also hunt in the dark. A barn owl can hunt in total darkness and can hear a mouse's heartbeat from three metres away.
Wolves are usually born in late April to early May, making their star sign Taurus. Taureans are said to be stubborn and it’s true that once wolves spot their prey, they will chase it all day and night. Never giving up.
Vampire bats are the only mammals that live exclusively on blood. They like to hunt on moonless nights - when there is absolutely no light. They use echolocation (bouncing sound waves off their surroundings) to see.
This basilisk behemoth of the desert, forest and mountain biomes of the world, is quick, silent and deadly. The most deadly of all snakes is the Taipan. It’s the world's most venomous snake. One drop of its poison can kill 100 men.
Vultures are the scavengers of the bird world, feeding off the carcasses and carrion of other birds and animals – flesh, cartilage, and even bones. The bone-eating bearded vulture eats mostly bones. It picks animals up and drops them from a huge height so they shatter into bite-size pieces!
Probably the most mysterious of black predators in the animal kingdom is the panther. Panthers are defined by the melanin in their skin, so they take on a dark brown or blackish complexion. Panthers are black jaguars in Latin America and black leopards in Africa and Asia.
Close up, panthers have the same markings as the ones we can see on non-melanistic leopards and jaguars, with the pattern visible through the darkness of their coat. The effect is known as ‘ghost striping.’
Panthers (whether they are jaguars or leopards) are great tree climbers, and they tend to hunt more at night, which makes it almost impossible for their prey to see them. Panthers (especially leopards) also have a very strong bite and jaws, so they can take large prey and even haul it into trees, away from other predators to feed on.
Vampire bats aren’t the only bloodsucking animals. Leeches attach themselves to their prey using their proboscis (up to six inches long). When they attach, they produce an anesthetic which reduces the pain and allows for an undisturbed extraction. As part of this process, they release an anticoagulant called hirudin, which prevents blood coagulation. So their victims don’t even know their having their own blood sucked from them. When the leech has had its fill, it will detach itself and fall off.
Some leeches get up to 10 times bigger as they drink blood from an animal, or even a human! The giant Amazon leech can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. In the 1970’s, a scientist rediscovered two specimens of leech previously thought to be extinct, one of which he named Grandma Moses.
Probably the most synonymous with Halloween, the spider is one of the most feared animals in the world. Only the snake narrowly beats its fear factor. 42% of people are scared of spiders. However, only 30 spider species are harmful to humans and no more than 100 people have died from spider bites in the entire 20th century.
Spiders regularly appear in the most common nightmares that people have. This manifests itself in different ways, from swallowing spiders, being caught in spider webs, being chased by spiders, to spiders falling on them.
Although these things are extremely unlikely to happen to humans in real life, they do happen nonetheless.
In 2013, spiders fell from the skies in a Brazilian town. Why? Most scientists think strong winds or tornadoes cause animals to be picked up from their natural homes and dropped hundreds of miles away. Duck!
The Australian spider, the Sydney funnel web, is one of the most dangerous spiders in the world. It can charge you if disturbed, stab you with fangs so sharp they can bite through shoe leather; cling on, biting you again and again; and cause death in 15 minutes, faster than any other spider.
There do exist a species of spider known as net-casting spiders, which create flying webs. These spiders throw their webs through the air to catch their prey. Run!
"Sea cucumbers??" you say. Okay, not exactly the most spooky animal on the planet, but its defense mechanism is probably the most gruesome and sinister. Sea cucumbers protect themselves against predators by squirting their internal organs out of their bottoms. After a time, their organs then grow back. Horrifying!
You can find some of these facts and more in Adam Frost’s ‘The Awesome Book of Animals’ (Bloomsbury).