The Creatures of Halloween Night: Should we fear them or admire them?

Brown Bat

by Dr. Doug Pernikoff, DVM

Halloween is a different sort of celebration today in contrast to its more sinister beginnings in very early Irish/Celtic culture. This period of the year represented a change from sunny, warm and long lighted summer days to the onset of cooler, darker and shorter days of fall. This time was also recognized as the annual witching time.

Halloween was seen as the time of the year when those souls passed would return to walk the earth again. But, it was not until the mid to late 1800s, when a large number of Irish folk immigrated to America, that we began to adopt and redefine the celebration of Halloween as something more fun than sinister. It was also a human invention to incorporate certain animals into the celebration of Halloween. Black cats, wolves, bats, owls and large spiders all play a significant role in enriching our present day Halloween.

How is it that these particular animals have come forward as representations of this special October 31st event. The incorporation of the black cat, typically with bright, reflective yellow eyes, represents the oldest animal relationship to Halloween. In the far past, witches were thought able to transform themselves into black cats, and thereby, are a likely subject to associate with our modern day Halloween. All these animals mentioned are particularly capable hunters of the night. They all possess special physical or physiological features that allow them to move almost silently in the darkness and furtively stalk with torpedo like efficiency, their poor prey victims. They are all referred to as ‘high end predators’, performing at the very top of their food chains. They use their heightened senses of night vision, hearing and smell to detect and successfully stalk their prey. Owls also have unique feathers lining their wing margins that silence the sounds of their flight, allowing them to attack unsuspecting prey species without detection. Bats are extremely special mammals, being the only mammal species truly able to fly due to the unusual modifications in their hands, with webbing developed in association with extended finger bones, creating a leather like wing structure.

I would bet that most people fearful of bats today would make reference to all the great horror films of our childhood, wherein the Dracula monster, representing the walking dead, fed voraciously on the blood of humans, and would make his escape by transforming into a bat. In fact, there are hundreds of bat species in our ecosystems worldwide, yet only one species, the ‘vampire’ bat, will search out mammalian blood meals. Nonetheless, due to their association with nighttime hunting and again, near silent flight, we have come to fear them as something supernatural and representative of evil! And, don’t forget those wonderful spiders, especially the large tarantula species, with some Central American spiders reaching over 1/2 pound in weight and others with a leg span of over 13 inches.

They are represented with black, souless eye clusters and large fangs through which they inject their tissue destroying poison. Actually, it is a very effective method to trap and kill prey. They sit in the shadows of their burrow, awaiting their chance to pounce out and attack. They inject their fangs into the prey animal, introducing the deadly, necrotizing formula of enzymes and after the prey is reduced to a bag of fluids, they use the same fangs as a means to draw up the nutrient, much like using straws on a milkshake. So, in reality, spider fangs can be protective, but their true, first purpose is for acquiring and processing food for ingestion.

So, rather than fear these uniquely talented night hunters, one can come to admire them for those very traits that make them successful predators in our present day ecosystems. Take some time and explore more about their biology and natural history and you too will come to appreciate them.

Have a fun and safe Halloween night! Watch out for those scary critters of the night!!

Vist our booth at the Healthy Planet Expo, Oct. 20 In Webster Groves!

Fondly, Dr. Doug Pernikoff
Clarkson-Wilson Veternary Clinic, VetPet Rescue
636-530-1808 • Clarksonwilsonvet.com