Halloween's 5 Favorite Animals
Like many holidays, there are a series of beliefs and superstitions that surround Halloween. While it is often celebrated by kids dressing up in costumes and shoveling in way too much candy, the holiday has roots in ancient folklore and Celtic rituals. For this, Halloween is seen as an eerie holiday filled with fear--as well as mystery and magic. Halloween is also often associated with some seemingly spooky iconic animals --spiders, black cats, ravens, wolves and bats. But are they really all that spooky? Decide for yourself.
Sure, spiders look creepy with all those legs (8) and their web-slinging. The fact that some spider bites are poisonous doesn't help their reputation either. Then there's the folklore that has it that spiders and their web-weaving abilities actually help witches cast spells. Creatures that help witches' do their dirty work are otherwise known as "familars."
While there are some 43,000 different spiders living throughout the world, only a small number of them are actually considered dangerous. Some of the most dangerous spider species include the Brown Recluse Spider, the Brazilian Wandering Spiders, the Yellow sac spider, the Wolf spider and the Black Widow Spider. So there is no need to be alarmed if a harmless Daddy Long Leg scurries by. And even though spider webs may have helped witches cast spells many moons ago, today they help humans with pest control. Spiders spin intricate webs of silk that ultimately catch insects flying by. This helps spiders grab a bite to eat and helps us keep annoying mosquitoes and flies from overpopulating our backyards.
Black cats are also dubbed familars for their unwavering commitment as a witches' favorite pet. Essentially, witches believed that cats could help them sense spirits. While cats can see very well in the dark, this paranormal ability might be a stretch for our feline friends. Other myths simply suggest the mischievous animals are bad luck and that crossing paths with one should be avoided at all cause. While a black fur coat may suggest the cats are harbingers of bad luck, the color differentiation between them and other household cats simply comes down to genetics. Essentially, the colors in hair, skin, and eyes are caused by a pigment known as melanin. There are two different kinds of melanin: eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin absorbs light and gives some cats their pure black fur. On the other hand, phaeomelanin reflects light and gives some cats a red, orange or yellow color. Regardless of the color of their fur, domesticated cats have a long-standing relationship with humans.
Likewise, with their black feathers, ravens have long been considered creepy omens. They sit atop perches near witches and seem to see everything. This supposedly came in handy for the women who needed mysterious messengers to carry magic across great distances and collect secrets to bring back. The birds are also known to linger in the presence of hunters in order to catch a quick bite to eat. Ravens are primarily scavengers, which is a behavior often associated with death, and hearing the bird's "caw" echo through the night signifies in folklore that someone has been murdered. These ominous birds can be seen living throughout any area in the Northern Hemisphere and are actually considered the most widespread bird species in the world. Despite superstition, common ravens have lived harmoniously among humans for years. (Scroll to read more...)
Another frequent star of Halloween tales is the werewolf. It's believed that these mythical creatures are under a spell and when a full moon appears, a man turns into a werewolf with unusually strong speed, strength and senses. For their similar fur coats and howling abilities, wolves have often been wrongfully associated with these legends. As a result, the common wolf has mostly been regarded with fear.
Wolves represent the largest and most widespread member of the dog family. They can be seen in a variety of habitats almost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. However, in recent years they have been hunted near extinction. Gray wolves are considered top predators that control deer, coyotes and raccoon populations. Unlike the Halloween stories in which werewolves attack people, wolves actually tend to go out of their way to avoid human contact.
Bats are also viewed as dangerous and creepy animals. That is because blood-sucking vampires, such as Dracula, are seen transforming into bats and flying through the night sky in search of their next victim--whom they plan to sink their teeth into. Vampires are nocturnal creatures who spend their days sleeping in a coffin and avoiding sunlight. While this is similar to how bats spend their days enjoying the complete darkness of caves and foraging only at night, it is not entirely fair to associate bats with such ruthless fictional characters. In fact, bats are actually quite harmless and provide vital ecosystem functions such as insect pest removal and valuable pollination distribution.
While not all bats are carnivorous, vampire bats have often been given a bad name for feeding off the blood of cows, pigs, horses, chickens or birds. This has earned them special recognition as a Halloween figure. That said, contrary to their fictional counterparts, their foraging habit doesn't actually hurt their prey. While the bats do drink the blood of animals, they do not necessarily sink their teeth into their prey to do so. Instead, the animals make a small incision with their teeth and lap up the flowing blood with their tongues. Er, we all have our habits, right?
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