Wednesday 28 October 2015

Pentagrammatical Décor of the Hallowe'en Horrors

It's Halloween! That time of year when we kick the bucket with death, kick our heels with darkness, and kick angelic beings in the shins with evil! Woo!

Behold Death. He's taken up opera singing this year and boy is it inspiring! Even with a voice as deep as time itself and way more gravelly, not to mention a distinct death rattle, he's still a perfectly good soprano. And his high C's put Freddie Mercury to shame!

Here be Darkness. She's been trying to master the mysterious art of facial expressions. She's pretty good at some of them - apathy, boredom. cold aloofness, stuff like that. Unfortunately all her other ones fall somewhere between normal-furious and furious-and-also-completely-insane. You should see her "welcoming smile". It will chill you to the bone!

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 else has come to the party this year!

Image: Psychonaught
Ephebopus murinus
Skeleton Tarantula
It's a spider in a skeleton suit!

That seems a little odd to say since spiders are arthropods... they have exoskeletons... they all run around in hairy, suits of skeleton. This one, however, goes the extra mile with some sweet, white patterns on each one of her legs to really show off her skellington.

Skeleton Spiders aren't particularly large compared to other great, big, hairy tarantulas. Their leg span reaches just 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in). Mere tiddlers!

They come from South America where, like most skeletons, they lurk silently beneath the ground. Unlike most skeletons though, they dwell in heavily webbed burrows in the forest floor and lunge with incredible speed at any insects that wander by.

Necromancer, that crafty, old fox. He's brought along a skeleton army of ants. They look just like normal ants except they're stealing everyone's food and bringing it to him!

Image: Dan Molter
Exidia glandulosa
Witches Butter
Erm... yeah. I guess Witches Butter is the Marmite of butters. You either love it or you hate it. And if you love it, some of the people who hate it might burn you at the stake.

These mushrooms are found all over North America and Europe. They grow in cool weather, when black fruiting bodies emerge from rotting hardwood, like the fallen branches of oak trees. Each fruiting body is about 3 cm (an inch) across and shaped like an upside down cone.

Often they come out in clusters, a whole gaggle of black, inverted cones that are quite firm at first. Then, as they age, they get soft and gelatinous, and the clusters of individuals all start to merge together in a mass of lumpy, black, rotted-brain jelly. This is when the witches arrive with their slices of toast.

They better come quick! If they leave it too long, Witches Butter will dry out and leave nothing but a black crust on the wood. Yuck!

Oh, great. A bunch of zombies have arrived protesting against the use of zombies as target practice. I feel their plight, I really do, but this just isn't the place for politics.

Image: Gilles San Martin
Macrosiphum rosae
Rose Aphid
Be quick. Be smart. Be hid.
From the pointy, dagger-face of...

Rose Aphids are sap-sucking masters of infestation. It all starts when they hatch from eggs conveniently left on a rosebush. The tiny youngsters quickly head over to the tender buds, pierce the outer layers with their devilish mouth parts and sit back as the rosebush's internal fluids flow into their plumply waiting

When this first generation reaches adulthood, at up to 5 mm (0.2 in) long, they give birth to live young without the need to mate. These youngsters are clones of their mother and can immediately join the sap-sucking feast. These too grow and bear clones of their own so that a vast army of rose vampires gradually develops.

Image: Gary Chang
Eventually the growing season ends and the rosebush no longer sends out those juicy buds. The herd of female aphids finally give birth to sexual males and females who may also be winged. Now males and females can mate, perhaps flying off to other colonies first to diversify the gene pool. The females lay their eggs on rosebushes. These eggs lie dormant over the winter, ready to begin a new infestation when the weather is ripe.

Rose Aphids originated in Europe but with the worldwide popularity of roses and those tiny, dormant eggs hiding among them, they've managed to spread all over the world.

Whoops! I thought that was Evil, Corrupt Lawyer but it turns out it was Werewolf in his human form. Apparently he's quite a good lawyer.

Image: Sylke Rohrlach
Hypnos monopterygius
Coffin Ray
Hypnos. What a name! Sounds like a super villain trying to take over the world, one unaccountably popular YouTube video at a time.

Coffin Rays are a kind of electric ray from the coast of Australia, though they're sufficiently different from the others to be the only species within the Hypnidae family. They reach about 40 cm (16 in) long and spend the daylight hours half buried in sandy or muddy sediment.

They're rather flabby and sluggish swimmers, fluttering around with their oddly pear-shaped body. They have the big, round pectoral fins like lots of other rays, but then they also have large, round pelvic fins that give them a second, miniature disc.

In any case, Coffin Rays aren't one for swimming around all the time. Why bother when you can paralyse your prey with a 200 volt shock? This electric shock is pretty intense even for creatures much bigger than the ray. It's not enough to kill a human but it'll certainly ward off any predator.

As for the little fish that get paralysed, well... it's a lot easier to eat prey that isn't struggling and trying to get away. Coffin Rays are voracious predators who are willing to tackle prey approximately their own size. I guess most coffins are hungry like that, but it's nice to see one that's a little more proactive about it.

Spooky Ghost is off to appear at a seance. I hope she isn't too long. If she comes back covered in ectoplasm it'll get into the carpets and it takes FOREVER to clean that stuff off.

Image: J. Bedek
Geophilus hadesi
Geophilus - "lover of earth."
hadesi - Hades, Greek mythology's Lord of the Underworld and Ruler of the Dead.

I don't think the real Hades was quite as spindly or had quite so many legs. Which is a real shame.

Centipedes in the order Geophilomorpha, also known as Soil Centipedes, are completely blind, incredibly slender and may have several hundred legs. It all works out for them since they spend their time burrowing in the earth like a venomous worm. These are the kind of centipedes you will often find scurrying and squirming when you flip over a rock pretty much anywhere in the world.

Many Geophilomorphs find themselves in caves on occasion but almost none of them are proper troglobites, or true cave-dwellers. G. hadesi is an exception. They live in caves in Croatia and bear extra long claws to grip onto the walls and extra long antennae to figure out what's going on around them. One was spotted crawling about at a depth of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft), deeper than any other centipede!

Elvis Presley? What is he doing here? Oh, wait. It's just Shapeshifting Reptilian up to his old tricks again.

Image: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT
Aconitum napellus
This plant is found throughout western and central Europe. They reach up to a metre (3 feet) tall, with the top half covered in hood shaped flowers in luscious, purple colour. They belong to the genus Aconitum, which contains numerous similar species which live in mountain meadows across the northern hemisphere.

Aconitum plants go by many names. Aconite, because of the genus. Monk's Hood because of the shape of their flowers. Devil's Helmet because all is not as it seems. And then come the "bane" names. "Bane" comes from old Germanic for "death", before it came to refer to poison and other things that cause death and destruction.

So it's a bit worrisome when our Aconite is also known as Mousebane, Wolfsbane, Leopard's Bane, Women's Bane and, just to make the point absolutely clear, Queen of all Poisons. Yup. These Bluebells from Hades have apparently been used for everything from keeping mice out of the house and wolves out of the sheep to, er, killing women, I guess.

Image: Bernd Haynold
The Roman poet Ovid said that Aconite was also known as Mother-in-law's Poison which, from a multitude of old jokes, I'm given to believe is a good thing. He also says that they grew from the dripping spittle of Cerberus, the three-headed Hellhound who guards the gates to the underworld. Others say it was discovered by Hecate, goddess of witchcraft and sorcery amongst other extremely Halloween things.

Aconite is indeed a rather vicious poison. Symptoms can begin within minutes and the victim dead within a few hours of a fatal dose as the poison effects the rhythm of the heart. From Alaska to Japan it's been used for poison arrows and spears, assassinations and murders.

Long live the Queen!

Terrifying Alien is playing ragtime! These guys are really scary when they're on the job, what with all the creeping up behind you and eating various parts of your body. But once they're done with the 9 to 5 they're a real hoot!

Image: Jean-Francois Brousseau
Apteronotus albifrons
Black Ghost Knifefish
Black Ghosts sound like the perfect assassins! At night they're completely invisible and in the daytime they can pretend to be shadows. They will of course require appropriate equipment. You can't have a shiny knife glinting in the light when your Black Ghost is trying to be a shadow. Thus, Black Ghost Knife! And it's a fish, too, so... do mermaids have assassins?

Black Ghost Knifefish come from rivers in South America and are named after the fact that they look like 50 cm (20 in) long knives. Big knives! They're long and tapering, with no dorsal fin, no pelvic fin, a tiny tail fin, and an incredibly long anal fin that extends almost the entire length of the underside of their body.

Video: pomidorwp

They swim by rippling this fin, even using it to swim backwards as easily as they swim forwards. The rest of their body is kept completely straight at all times, no swishing of the tail or snakey curving of the spine. The reason for that is they must remain perfectly straight in order to maintain the electric fields they're constantly producing.

Black Ghost Knifefish are related to the famous Electric Eels. In fact, Electric Eels are big, chubby knifefish that don't look like a knife any more. Black Ghosts don't have the power to fell a horse or anything like that but they do use their electric fields to build a picture of the world around them. Since they're nocturnal, they can sense obstacles in the darkness and the presence of small fish, tadpoles and other prey.

They can even use their electrical signals to communicate with each other and find the opposite sex. Even in pitch darkness, love will find a way! Black Ghost Love will, anyway.

Is that... a jar of Marmite?

Image: S J Bennett
Macroderma gigas
Ghost Bat
Ah! Back to a classic, old fashioned ghost. It's white! Which means it's not at all a classic, old fashioned bat. These denizens of northern Australia are completely white! Or at least pale, whitish grey. They reach about 10 cm (4 in) long, from large, white ears and pointy, white nose to... white tail membrane, since it doesn't have an actual tail. Their wings, meanwhile, are white, extremely thin and membranous, and span about 60 cm (2 feet) in total.

But... here's the thing. Ghost Bats have the specific name gigas because they are the largest species within their family. And that family is the False Vampire Bat family. You had better be careful when you drive that stake into Dracula's heart! The undead may just have a spectral afterlife of their own.

Alas, Ghost Bats are, in their way, even more brutal than actual Vampire Bats. They don't feed on the blood of anything as big as a horse. Nor are they careful not to awaken their host from slumber or to leave them with enough blood left over to get on with their lives. No. Ghost Bats are more into decapitation. Not of horses though, but of smaller things like other bats, rodents, snakes and lizards. They jump on them, hold them down with a thumb claw and kill them with a bite to the head or neck.

Yikes! Maybe killing vampires just leaves you with a bunch of really furious vampire ghosts who've completely lost all their good manners?

Oh, great. Here come the Ghouls for the Option of Fresh Food, or GOFF. They don't like munching on corpses and bones like other ghouls, they prefer their meals extra-rare. Darn. And I brought so many corpses and bones, too.


TexWisGirl said...

i kept humming 'monster mash' as i scrolled your post. :)

Joseph JG said...

Haha! The perfect theme tune!

Esther said...

It's that time of year again! Happy Halloween :D

Black Ghost Knifefish are so hypnotizing to watch...I can't stop staring at the way those fins undulate.

Joseph JG said...

Happy Halloween!

So true about the Black Ghost. I love the way it moves forward and back!

BK said...

There's another false vampire bat, the Spectral Bat (Vampyrum spectrum). It's even bigger.

Joseph JG said...

Yikes! Maybe that'll be one for next year :P

BK said...

It's even more predatory than the ghost bat, and a major predator of birds and other bats.

Joseph JG said...

Now THAT'S impressive! Kinda horrifying, but impressive.

BK said...

Scary name, scary behaviour, large size, my favourite bat.