As these Autumn days grow colder and the dark nights draw closer, there’s always something a little bit spooky about this time of year, don’t you think? Sure, during the day you’ve got your pumpkin spiced lattes to keep you warm, but as the sun starts to dim while you make your way home, life can start to feel a little bit like Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Rustling in the bushes, black birds flying overhead, maybe even the odd spider scuttling along as you make a quick dash towards the front door…yes, October is all about feeling a little bit freaked - because Halloween is almost upon us! So as you settle into your sweet abode at night, hot chocolate in hand and snugly jumper shrouding your shoulders, spare a thought for the animals that live in some of the most downright disturbing habitats on earth…if you dare to, that is.
The Deepest, Darkest Ocean
By now, plenty of folk will be familiar with one of the deep sea's scariest-looking inhabitants, the angler fish. With their huge heads, massive mouths and fearsome fangs, the angler fish has found itself stuck with the title of being one of the ugliest species on earth. Considering our negative attitudes towards their less-than-desirable aesthetic, it's no wonder these guys spend their lives scraping pretty much the bottom of the ocean floor - most of the 200 species of angler fish reside in the murky depths of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans, up to a mile below the water's surface, in fact. The only guiding light for these fish is the pole-like piece of dorsal spine that hangs over the female's head, which has a luminescent glow to attract prey close enough to be devoured. And - in case you were wondering - the lady fishes are capable of eating prey more than twice their own size. Gross.
Interestingly, the male angler fish is much smaller than his female counterpart, and he doesn't really get up to much during its time in the b̶l̶a̶c̶k̶ ̶p̶i̶t̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶l̶ dark shallows in which it survives. Free to roam whatever habitat they're bothered about roaming in, there comes a time in every male angler fish's life in which he must become a parasite...um, yeah. Once a male encounters a female, he latches onto her with his sharp teeth and physically fuses with his partner to the point where he loses his eyes/internal organs (!!!) and connects to her skin and bloodstream...talk about being clingy! The female is able to carry six or more males on her body at any given time, which messes with my head as I'm not sure if it's the most empowering/feminist thing I've ever heard, or just a bit weird. Anyway. You do you, girl.
Other creepy critters that live deep within the ocean are the Atlantic wolfish, the fang-tooth fish, the (very aptly named) vampires squid, and the pacific viper-fish. Give each of them a Google and try not to have nightmares tonight...
The Haunting Hollows Of A Cave
A number of animals like to make caves their home - take, for example, creatures such as pack-rats and moths - but few are more synonymous with this particular dwelling (or indeed, Halloween) than the bat. In fact, many caves around the world are famed almost entirely because of their inhabitants, such as the Malaysian Batu caves (the name taken from a nearby river, not the animals themselves), Indonesia's Bukit Lawang caves and, of course, the highly revered Bracken Cave in Texas, USA.
Home to an estimated 20 million bats, the Bracken Cave is the largest known concentration of mammals, with an abundance of wildlife as well as the bats. But, focusing on the tiny winged ones for now: bats do not take up permanent residence here, but rather flock as far as 1,000 miles from Mexico in the summer to give birth to their pups. It's been reported that a massive 500 pups cling to any one square foot of the cave walls at once, to keep themselves warm. Genius!
To further put into perspective how highly popular these caves are, animal behaviour expert Leonard Ireland once proclaimed that 'clouds of bats emerging from the cave were up to 30 miles long, and 20 miles wide.' That's probably the most overwhelming migration I could ever imagine witnessing! No need to be afraid though, as these bats are harmless to human beings and are primarily insectivores, feeding on tiny critters such as flies, wasps and ants, and tend to feed while in-flight. So there's minimal chance of them swooping down and 'bat'-terring you around!
One last reason to be a fan of this particular species (the Mexican free-tailed bat, no less), is for their ability to pollinate, spreading sugarcane effectively and devouring any ants that get in the way of sugarcane growth - and this skill does not go unnoticed by rum best-sellers Barcardi, who have bats as their official icon. Bacardi Ltd. themselves attribute the use of the bat in the logo to 'Don Facundo’s wife, Amalia, who suggested using a bat for the company logo. It was an insightful choice, because according to Cuban and Spanish lore, bats symbolise good health, good fortune and family unity.' How lovely!
Strangely Solitary Lakes
Okay, so while lakes aren't inherently scary places, it is strange to consider that a creature seemingly unnatural to an area of this sort, may actually be the only specimen living in its waters at all. (Unless, of course, The Creature From The Black Lagoon is also lurking below.) There's certainly something very alien about the inhabitants of Palau's Eil Malk lake: the golden jellyfish and the moon jellyfish are, by all accounts, somewhat spooky-looking. And its almost a mistake of nature that these guys live here at all, as Eil Malk is largely isolated from the other islands in Palau, therefore meaning its conditions aren't quite as adept to nurturing life as the neighbouring lagoons certainly are. The gelatinous jellyfish must adapt to the limitations their habitat provide, using their (particularly short) clubs to push their way through the water and up towards the sun, following its arc across the sky as each day progresses, and using solar light to nourish the tissues that make up their entire bodies. Pretty much the only time the jellyfish has a chance to rest and make the most of its hard-earned reserves, is when the sun is high overhead in the middle of the day. For just a few hours, the golden jellyfish will float in the waters of the lake, absorbing as much sunlight as possible without expelling further energy.
When the time comes for the jellyfish to head back home, they use a jet-like propulsion to move through the lake, pumping water through their bells and, as such, are able provide valuable nutrients and organisms to the environment around them. This action is incredibly valuable to the lake, as this mixing of nutrients and waters enables the base of the food chain to be developed, and the limited life that exists within Eil Malik has the opportunity to thrive. And man, are the jellyfish thriving - millions of golden jellyfish migrate across the lake every single day, which is a wonderful sight to behold.
So aside from the eerie isolation that is life in a lake, there's not so much to fear about Eil Malik's only inhabitants. Due to their location, they've evolved to be without a sting, so should you ever cross their paths (note: scuba diving is forbidden here!), you'd be at no risk of being affected. In fact, the lake itself is more likely to cause harm, with the deeper anoxic layer containing hydrogen sulphide, which is poisonous to humans.
While calling 'outer-space' a habitat may be a bit of a stretch, there is a specimen here on earth that is actually able to survive just about anything...and yes, that includes the vacuum of the unknown. The water-bear is a sluggish-looking organism, almost a hybrid of a cockroach and a maggot in appearance (though that is just me hazarding a guess, as pictures of these things are damn-near impossible to find), which is capable of enduring the harshest of climates: they're found in hot springs, as well as nestled under solid ice and at the top of the Himalayas, but when Swedish researcher K. Ingemar Jonsson blasted these tardigrades off into space, no amount of exposure to cosmic rays or vacuum could kill them. This means that, of all species that we know of, the Water Bear is the only kind to survive the harsh combination of low pressure and intense radiation found in space - and only recently have we discovered why this is possible.
I absolutely do not condone experimentation on animals (or any living creature for that matter), and for this reason my amazement of what Water Bears can cope with is tested somewhat. However, studies have happened, and they have gone on to prove that these seemingly indestructible little mites are equipped with an in-built protein that acts as a radiation shield for DNA. When this protein was added to human DNA, damage from X-Rays was reduced by an impressive 40%. But what other superpowers do the Water Bears have? Further adaptions show that Water Bears dry out when subject to prolonged desiccation, water-loss, overheating and freezing...and that they actually turn into some kind of 'bioglass' until they're re-hydrated back to life.
In short: tardigrades have survived 120 years without water, freezing until -272.8 degrees Celsius, heating to 151 degrees Celsius, and once again the pressure of OUTER SPACE. All of this is endlessly fascinating as it is creepy, so rather than going on about it tardigrades too much, just enjoy the video above of one meandering through some moss. You're welcome.
And Finally...Your Very Own Doorstep
After all of this, you thought you were safe?! Come on! So what if the deepest trenches of the ocean or the atmosphere of outer-space all seem completely out of reach to you. There are plenty - and I mean PLENTY - of creatures just dying to share your home with you, some of which might just be living in the corner of your bedroom. It's estimated that the average house is home to 100 different species of arthropod - we'll leave it up to you to count out just how many spiders, centipedes and mites you've got crawling around the place. But what we will tell you, is that sometimes there's much larger creepers crawlin' around your abode...dare to look underneath your porch, and you may just find a giant salamander! In some parts of the world, here have been numerous reports of the Chinese Giant Salamander setting up camp for the night, right under the feet of the property's rightful owners. And when you consider the fact that this particular breed of salamander can grow up to 6 feet long, you might think twice about trying to battle them off of your lawn...they've got the potential to be the largest amphibian in the world, and they will most certainly put up a fight if you bother them. Enjoy living with your new housemate!
Chances are you'll never encounter a Chinese Giant Salamander in your life, but as above, there are plenty of other species willing to sneak into your house and crash out for as long as they can before they get caught. The most common, probably, would be the spider. In addition to spinning intricate webs and trapping prey such as flies in sinister, silky tombs *shudder*, the not-so-humble house spider occupies plenty of its time by chowing down on both insects and human skin cells, before proceeding to pop out 40-50 spider eggs in a good year...not only is this creepy and excessive, but if they can remain sly enough, spiders may stay in your house for up to 7 years. That's an awful lot of 8-legged freeloaders living under one roof!
Was that enough to make your skin crawl? If not, you can look forward to more spook-tacular Halloween blogs appearing over the next week or so! In the meantime, let us know of the strange habitats you know of, or any other creepy animal facts that you might have. We'd love to hear them!
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