It's Halloween! That time of year when we listen for the lifting of coffin lids with death, eavesdrop on the whispering chants of mournful forests with darkness and hear the lamentation of our enemies as we drive them before us and crush their women with evil. Woo!
Behold Death. He's taken up gardening. Or so he claims. I don't think he's supposed to bury the seeds 6 feet deep. And aren't you meant to take them off the tree first?
Here be Darkness. She's teaching the ghouls how to cook. It's quite easy because the ghouls eat raw meat but her three-tier offal cake with carved bone colonnade is quite a sight!
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 see who joined the party this year!
|Image: Santiago Ron|
This little imp is a poison dart frog who lives in parts of Ecuador and Colombia where it sometimes goes by the Spanish for Little Devil, Diablito. It was discovered, or at least described, in 1956 by a man called John W. Funkhouser. I hope someone of that name creates a nightclub some day. I'd love to dance at the John.
Little Devils are highly variable in colour, ranging from near pure reds and oranges like embers of jumpy, poisonous fire, to sickly brown with putrescent spots like they got too close to the flame. Others are a dramatic black and red or even red with slightly-different-red spots.
Many Poison Dart Frogs look after their young extremely well. They lay their eggs on the ground but once they hatch, the mother sticks a tadpole onto her back and climbs up a tree to find a small pool of water in the middle of a bromeliad. She deposits her tadpole into there and then climbs all the way back down to repeat the process all her other tadpoles, leaving each one in a different bromeliad.
That's effort enough but Little Devils belong to the genus Oophega, and they take it all a step further. Can you guess what they do? What if I told you that Oophega means "egg-eater"?
Every few days, the mother visits each one of her offspring and lays an unfertilised egg into their pool to serve as a meal. Her tadpoles will eat nothing else! You might know that Poison Dart Frogs don't start out poisonous, they acquire toxins from the insects they eat as adult frogs. Little Devils are different in that they begin to get their toxins from the eggs provided to them by their mother!
It's best to start them young.
The Invisible Man has gone too far! He's given his invisibility serum to his pets and now there's an invisible 800 pound gorilla in the room!
|Image: Thomas Splettstoesser|
The Halloween Crab is all dressed up for Halloween! But it's not in a vampire or a skeleton suit. Instead, it's dressed in the very Spirit of Halloween, with fiery orange limbs, purple claws and a black carapace. What a delight!
These are land crabs that reside near freshwater habitats on the Pacific side of coastal Central America. They must be very careful not to dry out so not only do they keep close to mangroves and rivers, they also spend much of the day in the burrows they dig for themselves. Some of these burrows can be up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long, which isn't bad for a crab only 5 cm (2 in) in length!
When night falls, Halloween Crabs emerge from their subterranean dwellings to feed their hunger. Cold, black eyes peer into the darkness. Purple claws clatter in anticipation. Orange legs stalk the forest floor. Soon enough, their victims are dragged into the depths of their burrow to be fed upon at their leisure.
CRACK. RIP. SHRED. Those poor seeds and leaves didn't stand a chance.
In the breeding season all the crabs meet up at the coast to mate and cast their eggs into the sea. Halloween Crabs spend about a month as plankton floating about in the water. When the youngsters come back to start their terrestrial life, it isn't quite the apocalyptic scene provided by the Christmas Island Crabs but if you're a plant looking on, it's probably enough to have you quaking in your roots.
Have you ever heard of a skeleton dressing up as a zombie for Halloween? Where did he get the organs from?
|Image: Alberto Garcia|
Yup, even demons have to keep up with the gardening.
Hellweed is a plant that exists as a big bundle of threads that lack roots and chlorophyll, and have tiny, useless leaves. How can such a thing live, you ask. Easy. By being a parasite!
Hellweed belongs to the Dodder family and is one of the few species that exist in cool, northerly climes. They're native to Europe but have spread to North America, Australia, Africa and pretty much everywhere else.
Part of their success in conquering the world comes from the spread of their minute seeds in our crops. The plant starts to grow when the temperature is right. In the early stages it has a kind of root and sufficient food for a few days of swift growth. A stem sniffs out the chemicals of promising, nearby victims and begins to grow in their direction.
When the stem finds a plant it grows an adhesive sucker to gain a firm grip. The Hellweed's roots die away and the stem entwines itself around its new host. Meanwhile, the sucker produces something called a haustorium which invades the host tissue and begins to extract the juices within. It's a sort of vampiric foliage!
The Hellweed keeps on growing, creating new leech-suckers and sending out new strands to find more plants to parasitise before they develop tiny flowers for pollinating. It's a common tactic among Dodders but most of the others are yellow or orange so they look less like a load of intestines spilling out of a plant.
Dr. Jekyll is giving a lecture to the zombies on how to take care of whatever organs they have left. I sure hope he drinks his potion soon, Mr. Hyde is a lot more fun.
|Image: United Nations Development Programme in Europe and CIS|
No colours now. Drain away the colours, hogtie the hues and shackle the shades. The cyprinid family of fishes contains goldfish, zebra danios and rainbow sharks but the only bit of colour on this particular cyprinid is on its spine. As if to mark out a target.
The Common Bleak is a freshwater fish with an enormous range that extends from south-east England to north-west Turkey and up into Sweden, which might explain the glassy stare of one who's seen too much. The Pyrenees and the Alps used to block their passage into Spain and Italy but then some bright spark decided to introduce them into both countries. Those Mediterranean types need a bit of bleakness, in their sun-drenched lives.
There are about 40 other species of Bleak found in Europe and western Asia, especially Turkey. Some of them are known as shemayas, which gives rise to all sorts of cool names like the Bakir Shemaya, the Manyas Shemaya and the Hazar Bleak.
The genus name, Alburnus, apparently comes from the city of Al Bura, but aside from an ancient Greek city and a couple of villages in Iran, none of which are quite called Al Bura, I can find nothing of that name. Still, at least I found out the word has such diverse meanings across the world as spit, sail, bone, penis and lampshade. Time well spent!
It's my favourite choir, Voice of the Catacombs! They've been touring tombs, dungeons, castles and sewers for months now. It's amazing they've found time to visit our little soiree! Maybe I should sacrifice a naive explorer to make them feel more at home?
Here's another kind of bleakness. This Witch Eel lives in the Pacific Ocean at depths of 100 to 500 metres (330 to 1,640 ft). They reach up to 90 cm (3 ft) long and have an extremely slender body with a long, tapering tail on one end and a long, toothy snout on the other. They're just really long!
There are a whole bunch of other Witch Eels found all over the world and belonging to a family called Nettastomatidae. It means "duck mouth", and they are indeed also known as Duckbill Eels. Apparently they have duck-like mouths? I don't really see it to be honest. I totally buy in to the witch thing, though!
Gloriously, some Wicth Eels are known as Sorcerors! What happens when a Slender Sorceror bumps into a Dogface Witch Eel, I wonder?
Oh dear. Our witch has gone and broken a nail. It was almost four feet long! It went right through that wizard though so she seems quite pleased with it.
|Image: Amadej Trnkoczy|
War never changes.
Even when it involves fairies in helmets.
And what a war it is! Bleeding Fairies are found all over Europe and North America and have also been spotted in Japan and Venezuela. They grow in little clusters on the rotting wood they feed on.
Bleeding Fairy Helmets are also known as Blood-foot Mushrooms (blood from head to toe) and Burgundydrop Bonnets... That last one isn't getting into the spirit of things at all. The specific name, haematopus, itself comes from the Greek for blood foot. Why? Because if you cut through the stalk of one of them you'll be met with a gush of deep red liquid that looks... too much like blood.
They have one interesting secret. It involves our old chum, Lucifer. Bleeding Fairy Helmets are bioluminescent, like some kind of grim warning to other fairies. However, they're luminescence is quite weak such that it's difficult for humans to see it.
No-one has checked how this particular species illuminates itself, but the usual way among mushrooms (and several other creatures) involves an enzyme called a luciferase that oxidises a pigment called a luciferin. I guess I should point out that the word lucifer means "morning star" or "light bringing", referring to the planet Venus.
There are mushrooms out there that let their inner lucifer shine and glow eerily in the forest. This one prefers to keep it under its burgundy bonnet.
Uh oh! Agent of the Illuminati is drunk again. He's spilling the beans on all sorts of secret agendas and dark perversions.
|Image: Marie and Alistair Knock|
This bat can be found throughout much of Africa where it roosts in small groups in trees and buildings. Their kidneys are great at retaining water so they can brave parts of the Saharan desert and other dry areas.
The Mauritian Tomb Bat has much better eyesight than most bats and can spot danger from quite a distance away. They still use echolocation in the darkness to catch prey, though. Like the other dozen species of Tomb Bat they also have sacs in their wrists which seem to release pheromones on the wing, just to add that little extra excitement when they're flying around.
Tomb Bats are noted for their swift flight and their ability to fly very far of an evening. This means they can travel great lengths in their search for insects to feed on and some of them can roost in odd places like caves, wells, cliffs and yes, tombs!
I mean, if you're going to be an Egyptian Tomb Bat, for example, you have to visit at least some of the tourist traps.
Here comes Hydra. That's another seven mouths to feed.
Is someone helping a little, old lady cross the street? Is there a children's party full of happy, smiling faces? Is someone looking back at the past year with satisfaction thinking "that went well"?
Never fear! The MASKED DEVIL is here!
Masked Devils are big, beefy cicadas from south-east Australia. They reach some 4 cm (1.6 in) in length with a wingspan of over 10 cm (4 in). They spend 7 years underground, feeding on sap from tree roots before emerging en masse to enter adulthood and suck sap out of tree branches, instead. Over the next 6 weeks of adult life they call (extremely loudly), mate and lay their eggs.
The Masked Devil is just one of several colours this species can be found in. The more common ones are the Green Grocers and the Yellow Mondays. So next time you go out to get your cabbage and rambutan be polite to the store keeper, you never know who he might be.
Dark Elf has started a one-man band! I wish he'd wear more than a cloak and a pair of underpants but it'll do nicely until Tentacle Monster finishes setting up for her one-monster philharmonic orchestra!