It always feels like there's something eerie in the air at this time of year. The nights are long and dark, thick fog rolls over the hills and an uneasy silence falls upon the natural world. It doesn’t take too much imagination to believe there could be unsavoury creatures in our midst.
But of course, monsters are not real. You’d never encounter creatures that suck your blood on an evening stroll, or witness a cold dead hand rising from the ground in your local woodland.
Or would you…?
Here are five examples of nature which could have stepped straight from a horror film.
Imagine for a moment that you are a mouse. Braving the darkness of the forest at night, you scramble through the undergrowth seeking tonight’s meal. The vegetation sways in the wind, hiding you from sight, but could it be hiding something else? Suddenly, a soundless flash of white, and before you even realise what it is, you yourself have become the meal.
The hunter is a barn owl. One of our most iconic birds, its white underparts are ghostly white, while its deep, dark eyes cast a haunting gaze that cuts through the darkness. And just like a ghost, it seems to make no physical impression on the world around it. The size and shape of a barn owl’s wings allow it to fly in complete silence. Perfect for capturing unsuspecting prey.
To top it off, barn owls don’t hoot like tawny owls. They screech like ghosts.
DEVIL’S COACH HORSE
You only need to look at a list of this beetle’s alternative names to see where its associations lie. Also known as the devil’s steed, the devil’s footman and in Irish, the ‘coffin-cutter’, it has been connected with the devil since the Middle Ages.
With a powerful jaw, lightning speed and a defensive stance like a scorpion, devil’s coach horse beetles are not to be trifled with. They count spiders, slugs and worms amongst their prey and can even give humans a nasty bite.
Could those mandibles actually be horns?
DEAD MAN’S FINGERS
You’re strolling through the woods at dusk, the only sound the crunch of leaves underfoot. Passing over a long-dead beech tree, you catch sight of five black, bony fingers clawing at you from beneath. Are the undead rising, or have you found some dead man’s fingers?
This creepy fungus grows in strands of between 3-6 ‘fingers’, which can come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and colours. And whereas zombies have a penchant for eating human brains, Dead Man’s Fingers are much more effective at rotting deadwood, drawing nutrients back into the woodland floor.
Although it may seem harmless compared to a zombie, don’t be tempted to eat this fungus, as dead man’s finger is not edible.
Was it the wind or did those fingers move?
Spiders are more afraid of us than we are of them, right? Well that’s not entirely true if you’re an insect. Just like their similarly hairy namesakes, wolf spiders are expert hunters which track, chase and leap upon their prey.
While they may not trap prey in a web like some other spiders, they use their silk in an even more frightening way. By casting a strand into the air, wolf spiders form a ‘parachute’ which allows them to float on the wind.
So who’s more afraid? You, or the hairy, flying, wolf spider?
Wolf spiders have some of the best eyesight among spiders, so it’s probably watching you.
Last but not least, we have the most dreaded creature of all, the highland midge. Forget vampires; a still, humid evening in a lonely glen will have you cursing these bloodsucking beasties as they swarm and feed on every inch of your being.
Descending upon the exposed flesh of their prey, midges use their sharp mandibles to pierce the skin and gorge on the blood contained within. And if the thought itself doesn’t get your heart racing, the midge can help with that too. They actually release chemicals into the bloodstream which speed up the blood flow, filling them up that much quicker.
Dracula’s castle doesn’t seem so bad now.
A cloud of midges could almost be beautiful if they weren’t so bloodthirsty.
Hopefully this article has provided some fun and maybe an interesting factoid or two, but we should finish by saying that creepy or not, nature is incredible. Whether it’s wolf spiders controlling insect populations or midges providing food for fish, they all have their own vitally important roles to play.
Original photo credits
Header: Andy Hay
Barn Owl: Ben Andrew
Devil’s Coach Horse: Ben Phil – original version available here
Dead Man’s Fingers: Molly Martin
Wolf Spider: Aleksandrs Balodis – original version available here
Midges: Ben Andrew
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654
Accepting all non-essential cookies helps us to personalise your experience
These cookies are required for basic web functions
Allow us to collect anonymised performance data
Allow us to personalise your experience