Monday 30 October 2017

Seventh Seal of the Hallowe'en Horrors

It's Halloween! That time of year when we eat humble pie with death, eat a whole bottle of bitter pills with darkness and eat lead with evil. Woo!

Behold Death. He's come as a scorpion this year. He's wearing huge, black boxing gloves for pincers and somehow he's managed to attach his scythe to his backside so it looks like a tail. It's very convincing! I just which he didn't put actual venom on his scythe blade.

Here be Darkness. She's showing off all the knitwear she's been doing. Unfortunately, she's not great at jumpers or mittens or socks or anything like that, but boy can she do scarves. And you should see the beautiful full moon, castle and spooky forest patterns she can do. And if you ignore her advice, you can tie the hangman's noose around your wrist instead of your neck. That way you'll never lose it!

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's come to haunt the party this year!

Image: Frupus
Idolomantis diabolica
Giant Devil's Flower Mantis
THAT... is a demon. No point denying it. He isn't even trying to hide it. He has the triangular head, the curving horns and the lantern crown of Baphomet. He has more eyes than Azrael the Angel of Death and Argus Panoptes put together. Also, he has a bunch of spikes. Because demon.

But this is a mere youngling. A subadult demon. You can tell from the brown colour which, along with various protrusions, allows her to hide among dead and dying leaves. Even younger Flower Mantids are black, perhaps to mimic ants. But then they grow up...

Giant Devil's Flower Mantids are big; some 13 cm (just over 5 in) for females, slightly smaller for males. They're found in eastern Africa, where their green colouration allows them to prowl the foliage unseen. An Angel of Death stalking the land of the living.

Anger a Flower Mantis and she'll raise her arms to display the vivid colouration on the inner side of her raptorial appendages. Be glad she has shown you mercy—you have been warned. Airborne prey is not so lucky. Any fly, butterfly, moth or beetle hoping to sup nectar from a flower is swiftly plucked from the air by those same appendages, firmly grasped, decapitated and devoured. Because hungry demon.

The ghouls are playing basketball with the Headless Horseman's head again. It must be difficult to keep an eye on it when both his eyes are already... on it... sort of thing, but he's got to try. Even I have to admit it has a very satisfying bounce on it.

Image: Saurabh Kulkarni
Nyctibatrachus sp.
Night Frog
"Lie down," Kermit ordered.
Ms Piggie's skin prickled as she did what she was told. This was a side of Kermit she'd never seen before. Commanding. Demanding. An edge to his voice and a hardness in his eyes. That wasn't the only thing that was hard. If this keeps up, she would definitely need a softer mattress.

Errrrrrr. It's not Kermit the Frog: After Dark. This is a completely different kind of Night Frog. There are some 35 species belonging to the genus Nyctibatrachus, ALL OF THEM found in a southwest Indian mountain range called the Western Ghats. As you might imagine, the Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot where scarcely a stone goes by without getting covered in lush vegetation and a waterfall.

Image: AJC1
Nyctibatrachus minimus
Night Frogs range in size from a tiny 1.3 cm (half an inch) to a modest 8.5 cm (3.3 in). Not all of them are as black as a leather jacket. Quite a few wear patterns of various brown hues to blend in with leaf litter. Many of these frequently tiny frogs live deep in this leaf litter, marsh vegetation or around boulders. Some of them have mating calls that sound like insects and while they may be locally common, that locale is often tiny.

All of which means that Night Frogs are incredibly difficult to find. Of the 35 species currently recognised, seven were discovered in 2017 and twelve in 2011, with other species being rediscovered after going unseen for 75 or more years. Who knows how many more species are out there? And given Kermit's escapades, I dread to think what they may be getting up to.

Perfectly Ordinary Cockatoo is summoning Cthulhu. Darn. I better move some things. We'll need a really big mattress.

Image: Anders Poulsen
Actinodendron arboreum
Hell's Fire Anemone
Returning to demons for a bit, this time we're going to their Hellish domain... Wait, not Hell-ish. Hell. We're going to Hell to check out the local plant life. Yup! This is the Tree Anemone. It comes from the Indo-Pacific oceans and reaches a diameter of 10 to 20 cm (4-8 in). It get's its name from the amazing way its tentacles branch out over and over again until it looks like broccoli!

Sounds lovely. I'm sure a nice walk in the Tree Anemone forest will give the tormented a little respite from their, er, torment. There's only one problem: TORMENT. Most sea anemones sting, but they often feel like nothing more than a peculiar stickiness. The Tree Anemone, by contrast, hurts like Hell and can cause skin ulcers. Ouch!

Image: Nick Hobgood
That doesn't stop the minions of Hell from frolicking among branches, pointing and laughing. They think of everything, don't they?

Spooky Child has arrived. She's just standing in the corner... watching... silently watching. Not even the chocolate fountain makes her smile. NOT EVEN THE CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN MAKES HER SMILE.

Image: José Pestana
Bulbophyllum medusae
Medusa's Head Orchid
Can a flower out-tentacle a squid or out-leg a spider? Can it out-snake Medusa herself? Looks like it!

Medusa's Head Orchid comes from southeast Asia, where it grows on the trunks and branches of trees. In the cooler months of October and November, pseudobulbs burst open to reveal dozens of tiny flowers, each one backed up by long, white sepals that dangle down in tendrils up to 15 cm (6 in) long. Beautiful when you think of fireworks. Horrifying when you think of a family of albino spiders. It's all in the eye of the beholder.

Here comes Cthulhu. Best not to look. Wow, that snoring! The very walls rattle at the sound of his galactic slumber. No wonder he sleeps with all his tentacles in his ears.

Image: Karin Schneeberger
Vampyressa pusilla
Yellow-eared Bat
It's a cute little flying mouse with Bambi eyes! Awwwww...

For some reason, they call the genus it belongs to Vampyressa. There's even a species called Vampyressa melissa. Surely that has to be a young vampire just trying to get through high school and being forced, FORCED, to murder bad-minded vampire slayers on a near-weekly basis. All she wants to do is get a date with that hot jock and find the perfect dress for the prom and revise for her college exams and apply for health insurance and all the other things Americans concern themselves with.

Image: Karin Schneeberger
If she's anything like the Yellow-eared Bats, then I guess she has yellow ears. And a leaf on her nose, since she's part of the very large Leaf-nosed Bat family. There are five species in the Vampyressa genus, all found in parts of South America and it looks like they all eat almost nothing but fruit. Figs seem to be a favourite.

From the sounds of it, I can't help but root for Melissa. She doesn't even want to suck blood that much but when all those slayers are making her kill them, waste not want, right?

Modern Evil and Ancient Evil are arguing about how best to arise, again. They have so much in common, you'd think they'd get along better.

Image: Moorea Biocode
Mysterious Syllid
I confess: this is not the Mysterious Syllid. It's a mysterious Syllid. In other words, I don't know what it is. Aside from the ghost of a centipede, of course.

It's also a Syllid. The family Syllidae includes numerous species of polychaete worm, most just millimetres in length. Their main claim to fame is surely their bizarre array of reproduction techniques, including tails of clones who only eat every second generation.

I have to say, though... a ghost with red eyes? Now that's cool.

What a disaster! Perfectly Ordinary Cockatoo is eating all the chocolate! He's practically BATHING in it! Oh, fine. NOW Spooky Child smiles. Typical!

Image: Oceana Europe
Dolichopteryx longipes
Brownsnout Spookfish
You can always rely on the deep sea for a good spook! We've seen more than a few so-called Spookfish in our time but most of them were Chimaera, those ancient shark relatives. The Brownsnout is a completely different kind of Spookfish, a Barreleye, related to the famous Pacific Barreleye.

As you can probably imagine, it's pretty weird. It reaches about 18 cm (7 in) long and has a pointy snout with one row of small teeth in the lower jaw and none at all in the upper one. It has some rather splendid pectoral fins but the scales are rudimentary, the muscles flabby and the whole body is covered in gelatinous flesh. Hey, they live at depths of over 1,000 metres (3,280 feet), you gotta do what you gotta do to survive the pressure of the abyss!

Orange eyes look up, black ones look down
Oh, and speaking of what you gotta do, the Brownsnout Spookfish is a bit of a four-eyes. Not literally, it only has a paltry two, but each one is divided into two parts with a wall to separate them. The larger part is the proper barrel-eye. It's cylindrical and faces straight upward. It has a huge lens and hungers for light so that the Brownsnout can spot the silhouettes of the tiny copepods it feeds on.

The smaller part of the eye, the diverticulum, is completely different. It faces downwards and doesn't have a lens at all. Instead, it forms an image using a mirror formed out of stacks of reflective crystals. The Brownsnout and the Pacific Barreleye are the only vertebrates known to use mirrors in this way. This mirror system is better at gathering light, so these diverticular eyes are perfect for spotting bioluminescence of any predators lurking below.

What a surprise! Abominable Snowman has arrived! I better clear out the freezer for him.

Image: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales
Selenochlamys ysbryda
Ghost Slug
The year was 2007. It was probably a dark and stormy night in Glamorgan, South Wales. A member of the public, possibly called Dave or Henrietta, was in his or her garden, perhaps shaking a stick at a pair of yowling cats who'd shattered the peace with their frenzied shrieking. Dave or Henrietta turned, the open door beckoning, promising warmth, light, a thick duvet and a Hercule Poirot DVD box set.

But Dave or Henrietta saw something. Just out of the corner of his or her eye.

Wales is an ancient place. A place of castles and bloodshed, of warring kingdoms. Did Norman knights march through the land of this very garden, fingers wrapped around tools of death? Did King Arthur here slay some unnatural beast and watch devilish blood seep into Welsh soil? One thing was certain. This garden was built on an ancient horticultural nursery, and some things leave their mark.

It came from the soil. Up to 11 cm (4 in) long, fully extended. White. Eyeless. Something that belongs in perpetual darkness. What was it? Experts would delve into ancient tomes written in lost languages unknown to modern man, like German and Russian. And they would get but half an answer.


So it took about a year to figure out what on earth kind of slug this was and when they found it, it turned out to be an unknown species belonging to a family found in the Caucasus, Iran and Turkey. A little more research and it looks like it might be the same species as another one that has only been seen twice, both times in the Crimea. Presumably, that horticultural nursery imported an invader with the plants.

Little is known about these guys because they spend most of their time burrowing up to a metre (3 ft) underground. That's why they called it ysbryda, after the Welsh for 'ghost'. Now that really is a lost language unknown to modern man.

And do you know the spooky thing? They're carnivorous! They slurp up earthworms like spaghetti and grind them up with their radula. I think Dave or Henrietta is lucky to be alive.

Uh oh. Animated Dolls aren't happy with the lack of chocolate! It's amazing how well-choreographed they are even when they're simply telling a bunch of skeletons to go get more chocolate.

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