Halloween’s scariest wildlife

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Some backyard wildlife are very scary! So, prepare to be surprised by what you learn here — but, in a good way! 

 
Mexican Red Knee Tarantula

Mexican Red Knee Tarantula. Tarantuland / Flickr; cc by-nc 2.0

TARANTULAS are not just scary-looking, but sometimes scary big! Would you want to meet one on a dark and stormy night? Or even a bright, sunny day? You may not want to hold one, either, but, their bad reputation is undeserved. That’s because tarantulas don’t bite unless they have to and will retreat, if possible (so just let them move away). If forced to bite in self-defense, it’s usually no worse than a bee’s sting. There’s no record of a human ever dying from a tarantula bite. They’re beneficial backyard wildlife because they feed on sowbugs, pillbugs and other garden pests. Tarantulas are also a popular pet, but make plans for them in your Will — females can live 40 years! In the U.S., they’re found in the South and West.  Learn all about spiders

 

Big Brown Bat in flight

Big Brown Bat, Eptesicus fuscus. (Angell Williams / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

BATS are known as evil and dangerous. With saliva dripping off razor-sharp teeth, they silently wait for us to step outdoors into the pitch black of night…so they can drain our blood. Mwahahaha! Or, at least, tangle up in our hair! We lovers of wildlife know that’s nonsense, don’t we? Bats are harmless, non-aggressive eaters of insects and fruit, with no interest in humans whatsoever. Mexico and South America have three blood-drinking bat species, but even those don’t target humans. Bats are very beneficial. Those that eat insects feast on such pests as mosquitos, gnats, flies and some of agriculture’s most damaging insects. A single bat consumes up to 6,000 insects per night! In a laboratory setting, Little Brown Bats gobbled up 600 mosquitoes per hour! Nectar eating bats of the Southwest help pollinate plants. Fruit eating bats in other parts of the world are vital to the continued existence of some crops. Learn all about bats

 

Queen Snake, Regina septemvittata

Queen Snake, Regina septemvittata. (Patrick Coin / Wiki; cc by-sa 2.5)

SNAKES are slithery, alien-looking, always startling and the bigger they are, the scarier they are. But, did you know that almost all snakes in the U.S. are harmless to humans? Only three kinds are venomous and even those aren’t typically aggressive. In fact, all snakes are afraid of humans and just want to keep away from us. Of course, we don’t want venomous ones living too close to our houses, but snakes are beneficial by helping to keep rodent populations under control. As for their constantly flicking tongue — snakes use their tongue to “taste” their environment. The scary-looking snake shown above is a harmless Queen Snake tasting whatever chemical molecules are in the air, including those of the human holding the camera.   Learn more about snakes 

 

Black vulture in flight

Black Vulture. (Gregory Moine / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Have you ever seen VULTURES slowly circling above, even in the city? It can happen if they detect something interesting there. For a vulture, “interesting” usually means something dead or dying. They’re harmless to humans, but people fear them because they’re large predatory birds, they go about in large flocks, and they’re considered disgusting because they eat dead things, including roadkill. They’re also thought to spread diseases when, in truth, they help prevent them: If every wild animal that dies was left rotting on the ground, all the viruses, bacteria and other pathogens contained in them would be dispersed into the environment. Vultures eat all that and it’s gone for good. The U.S. has three species: Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus; Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura; California Condor, Gymnogyps californianus.  Learn more about birds

 

Common striped scorpion, Centruroides vittatus

(Sturgis McKeever / Bugwood.org; cc by-nc 3.0)

SCORPIONS are creepy! Just look at those claws, and that stinger looks seriously devilish! Isn’t it lucky, then, that they aren’t aggressive? Their venom is meant to quickly immobilize prey and they don’t sting humans without provocation. In the U.S. there are about 50 species and not all of them even sting. Those that do can deliver a painful experience, but only one is known to be (very rarely) fatal to humans. Unlike most invertebrates, scorpion mothers give birth to live young and care for them. Scorpions are beneficial insects that feed on other insects, including plant pests and biting flies. 

 

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