It's Hallowe'en! That time of year when we trip the light phantasmic with death, trip and fall with darkness and "accidentally" trip and fall while holding a knife inappropriately in a crowded area with evil. Woo!
Behold Death. He's trying out a clown costume this year. He's really enjoying the red wig. I've never seen anyone put so much hair gel on a wig before! He needed every drop to comb it into the shape of his own scythe. He says he might laminate it!
Here be Darkness. She's taken up baking cupcakes and brought some along for us to try. They're delicious! They practically stand up and walk right into my mouth of their own accord. In fact, the legs are my favourite bit!
Yonder is Evil. He's dressed up in a long, white robe with a little cardboard halo fixed onto his head with a piece of wire. He does that every year but it's hilarious every time!
Let's take a look at some of the ghosts and ghouls who haunt our world all year round:
|Image: Bob Cornes|
We're accustomed to bats as the black flittermice of darkness who tear the night with membranous wings stretched taut between skeletal fingers. They screech into the night, hungry fangs glistening in the moonlight as they seek the flesh that will, for now, slake their ravening greed.
But one bat thought that simply being a bat just wasn't Halloween enough, so they got dressed up! It's the Halloween flittermouse of darkness who tears the night with membranous wings... Oh, yeah. All the other stuff is pretty much the same. It takes more than a new suit to make Painted Bats change their ways. Keep it real.
These little darlings live in southern Asia, from India and Sri Lanka to south China and Indonesia. They're only 6 to 10 cm (2.3 to 4 in) long and exactly half of that is their tail. Their wingspan is up to 30 cm (a foot) and the wings contain the only bit of black on them! It lies between their vibrant, orange fingers.
Painted Bats roost in pairs or small groups of up to 6 and spend the day in all sorts of places, like tree hollows and foliage, in the middle of big, curled up, dead leaves or under bird nests. Strange to say it of a bat, but they must really brighten the place up!
The Spectral Welcoming Committee wrote a song for the ghost choir to sing to new arrivals. It's called You Are Dead. I think it's admirably succinct but maybe a little insensitive.
|Image: Tatiana Bulyonkova|
Glorious! Black Trumpets are charcoal coloured, funnel shaped mushrooms from North America and Europe. They can reach a height of 10 cm and sometimes even more! They're also known as Trumpets of the Dead, the idea being that dead people underground are playing them. Oh, come on. Rise up! Rise up and join us all ye dead! The weather is marvellous!
The specific name cornucopioides comes from Cornucopia, a magical horn from a magical goat that looked after Zeus when he was growing up. The Cornucopia has been a symbol of harvest, wealth and abundance for thousands of years, so both it and the Black Trumpet mushroom are also known as a Horn of Plenty.
I can't help but think that the Black Trumpet has been infected with evil. Isn't it the Horn of Plenty of Death, now?
One of the ghosts has given up on the "white sheet look" in favour of a rather lovely floral affair. He looks ever so pretty!
Hey! You're the guy from the Garden of Eden! I'm your biggest fan! Can I have your autograph? Here's my pen. Oh... right. Er... the arms. And legs.
Oh, dear. Sometimes it's best not to meet your heroes.
After getting thrown out of the Garden, the Horned Viper was banished to the arid, sandy areas of North Africa and parts of Saudi Arabia. When they have to move they do so by sidewinding, which is a great way of getting around on slippery sand.
The rest of their time is spent half-buried in the sand, ready to burst forth and pounce on any lizard or mammal who may wander too close.
No-one is quite sure what the horns are for; a lot of individuals don't even have them! So if you ever find yourself trying to distinguish between The Snake That Never Lies and The Snake That Never Speaks Truth, the horns won't always be there to give you a clue.
One thing, though - these snakes have chunky scales that produce a rasping sound when they're rubbed together. They do that when threatened to warn you about their fangs and their venom and what a terrible shame it would be if they had to use them on you. That's one thing it's always best to trust.
Demon says he likes to possess little girls. We all found this suspicious but it turns out only little girls can get away with holding imaginary tea parties on the Witches' Sabbath. Demon LOVES tea and cake!
|Image: Brett Francis|
There's a whole genus of orchids called Dracula but only one of them goes all the way and adds vampira at the end. If only Bram Stoker's Dracula had such a descriptive name! It would've saved everyone a lot of trouble.
The petals of D. vampira are small and it's the green, purple-veined sepals that dominate. They end in thin tails that can reach 10 cm (4 in) long. It goes to the dragon-like appearance that gives the genus its name - Dracula means "little dragon".
This orchid is found only on the mountainous slopes of Pichincha, a volcano in Ecuador. They don't grow in soil, but attach themselves to the base of trees instead. With leaves that can reach almost 30 cm (a foot) long, D. vampira isn't a parasite on its home tree. They just need them for support. Maybe it's one of those modern, emotional vampires? Awww, poor baby!
We have a little dragon, too. She's SO cute! You should see her little face light up when she tears off a new finger to add to her collection. It's enough to melt your heart!
|Image: Elias Levy|
If Dracula is the little dragon then this must be the cosmic one. It looks huge! Aren't those stars? Isn't that a nebula? Does this eternal beast not drift in the void swallowing entire worlds to feed its infinite hunger?
It doesn't want asteroids, they're too dry and irritate the throat. Gas giants look nice but they're mostly air. What a disappointment! No. They want Earth-like planets. Good ol' Class M. M for Munch. That sliver of moisture at its surface, that crispy outer layer around gooey innards, that last kernel of resistance at the centre... Class M for Mmmmmmmm!
But the best part is the souls. What a rare delicacy! And how fortunate that souls taste even better when they tremble and scream in fear.
The end of the world is an Ornate Ghost Pipefish.
You'd think the Headless Horseman would mean one less mouth to feed, but he brought his horse along. That thing could eat a horse!
Image: Charles Schurch LewallenMegaselia scalaris
House Flies like houses. Fruit Flies like fruit. Coffin Flies... yeah.
From the earliest age, Coffin Flies are at one with death and putrescence. Adult females a mere 2 mm in length have indeed been known to dig 6 feet into the earth to lay their eggs on the decaying flesh of the recently departed, but it's not strictly necessary. It's probably more about cocking a snook at those humans who are always so precious about their houses and their fruit. Look what I can do when you're not moving any more!
All a Coffin Fly maggot really needs to grow up big and strong is rotting plant or animal material of any kind. Even overripe Fruit in your House will do. So will wounds on injured animals. Also intestines. Coffin Flies have lived, fed, pupated and emerged in living, human intestines. Turns out the coffin thing wasn't so bad after all.
And just to be REALLY difficult... paint and boot polish. Coffin Fly maggots can subsist on paint and boot polish.
With this bafflingly wide dietary range it's not so surprising to learn that Coffin Flies have spread throughout the warmer parts of the world. In more temperate regions they can still do well in cities and indoors. So make sure you empty those bins regularly. And consider cremation for your unused paint and boot polish.
Mad Zombie Trio has arrived! Those guys are great! They're zombies, but Scat is a rapper, Musk is a bodybuilder and Seep can move really fast. They're MAD!
|Image: Moorea Biocode|
The Orb of Forgathering glows softly in the crypt, the stale air taking on a perverse beauty as warm hues spread toward the darkest corners and particles of dust scintillate in the haze. As the light intensifies, lurid shadows spread across the damp walls and shift abruptly as unspeakable creatures seek shelter from the light.
Even as the tomb fills with blinding light and burning heat, you can't look away as the fluffy, pink spears of eternal doom emerge from the dread Orb. They point in all directions and you know each one represents a life consumed, snatched from worlds near and far to be absorbed by that sickening sphere.
You stare aghast as one of those spears points at you with an almost palpable glee. Tears stream down your face, but you will never know whether they came of the blistering light or sheer terror of the pink fluff that damned you.
Also it's a Sea Urchin. They have been found in certain Indo-Pacific islands where they are said to live deep in the crevices and rubble of coral reefs. The main body is about 5 cm (2 in) across and is covered in ridiculously massive spines that end in weird, clumpy growths often encrusted in sponges. Almost nothing is known about them!
Adventuring Hero has locked himself in the bathroom and refuses to come out. Someone gave him a cocktail and he started shrieking when he saw the fluffy, pink umbrella. That's the problem with these adventurers, you never know what will set them off.
|Image: Kent McFarland|
The plants have eyes! Lots of eyes! They're infested with lidless eyes on blood-red stalks that glare jealously at your arms and legs and your ability to walk and move!
These plants come from the eastern side of North America and are quite clearly wonderful and great. They have big leaves and clumps of tiny, white flowers which, most importantly of all, later develop into eyeballs. Or berries that look like eyeballs, if you insist on getting technical.
Certain birds are able to eat these things and spread the seeds around in their droppings, but it might be useful to note that Doll's Eyes are also known as White Baneberry. Bane is a bad thing. It's a "bad thing berry". A "berry of bad".
They apparently taste awful to humans and eating them causes headaches and vomiting. It seems no-one has yet died from them, probably because the bad side effects don't come after a great taste or amazing visions that you could blabber about. Doll's Eyes haven't signed that particular social contract.
On a positive note, if you did decide to persevere through the horrible taste and terrible effects, you might die! At least then those eyes won't be so jealous of your walking and moving.
The skeleton twins have started applying some kind of miraculous hair growth formula. I'm not impressed; it just looks like a few wispy strands around the edge of their skulls to me. They seem to be very pleased with the results, though...