Halloween. Even at the mention of it, I’m sure a good number of you are picturing a vast array of beasts, ghouls and monsters – or any other blood-sucking demon from hell. Entangled in this net of horror are a number of animals; all of which have developed a special, cult relationship with the day. For example, black cats, wolves, bats and spiders all receive the ‘Halloween treatment’ – mostly because they all seemingly do well in a witch broth or two. However, in true cliché breaking fashion, I am convinced that nature can offer a far more blood-curdling spectrum of unlikely beasts (in their own right) than stereo-typically portrayed. Let’s explore the often (and literally) over-looked contenders…
Surprisingly, the first is typically only an inch long, but will undoubtedly send shivers through at least half the people in the room. Native to the amazon basin, the Candiru Fish is a translucent, eel-like fish with catfish barbels at its anterior end. Parasitic by nature, Candirus follow the water flowing out of gill flaps of other larger fish. It then dives in and grasps to the inner layer of the gill cavity. Here, it can open up its sharp, umbrella-like spines to lock itself in position whilst vigorously suckling the host’s blood. Once full, they unhook and sink to the river floor to digest the meal - whilst eying the next passing blood bonanza. The Candiru fish is even also called the Vampire fish for this very reason. But, of course, this process isn’t limited to fish – brace yourselves. A suitable flow of liquid for the Candiru can include the flow of urine from an organism’s urethra. Thus, an unsuspecting tourist caught short on the amazon may well get a very, very nasty shock – allowing the fitting title of ‘willy fish’ to be adopted. Naturally, the pain is said to be indescribable. As far as Halloween costumes go, this may not make the obvious choice; for ‘Fright Factor’ however, the Candiru fish certainly has my vote.
Along a similar line as the Candiru fish, our next contender is exceptionally frightening when considered from the prey’s viewpoint. Winner of one of the coolest names in the animal kingdom, the Antlion (or Sand dragon) is exactly what it says on the tin; a golden-hair covered beetle-like insect that feeds on ants or other unsuspecting morsels. It is in fact the predatory larvae of the ‘antlion lacewing’, but has adopted its own title as ‘antlion’ due to its ability to remain in the larval form for many years. The antlion builds a self-built conical hole in very fine sand and waits patiently at its centre – picture George Lucas’ Great Pit of Carkoon. A careless slip into the hole leaves an insect doomed: fighting a far too literal uphill battle to escape the large grabbing mouth appendages of the antlion. Inevitably, exhaustion takes over and the insect is quickly speared and dragged alive into the sand, to be drained of its bodily fluids. This animal is not only scary in appearance, but also plans the world’s scariest surprise party - a Halloween must-have!
These were just a handful of organisms, from many conceived by nature, with a horror story that I believed was worthy of ‘Halloween treatment’. So if you’re looking for inspiration for this year’s Halloween costume or party, just remember these gruesome mercenaries and the nasty ‘tricks’ that they have up their sleeves. You may just fancy a ‘treat’ instead.