When people think of Halloween, they often conjure up an image of the spooky supernatural; ghosts, ghouls and witches come to mind and creepy crawlies that are sure to make your hair stand on end! But why are only certain creatures associated with the festival? Over the centuries, folklores and superstitions have led several species of wildlife to be associated with Halloween, here are some of the most common ones and the myths behind it.
Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ could be the cause of this one, in his novel he gave vampires the capability to turn into bats. However, there are only three species of Vampire Bats worldwide, mostly found in the Americas. They consume less than 30ml of blood per feed, mostly from goats or birds rather than humans!
Bats are often seen during the months of September to November looking for mates and increasing their food intake ready for winter hibernation, which ties in with the timing of Halloween. The tradition of Halloween originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain, where people would light bonfires to ward off ghosts. The bonfires would have drawn swarms of insects to the light, which in turn would have attracted hungry bats.
Bats are completely harmless and quite useful pest controllers; common pipistrelles will feed on around 3,000 insects in one night!
Historically spiders have been seen as evil companions of witches, it was once believed if a spider fell into a candle-lit lamp and was consumed by the flame, then witches were nearby! For many, spiders are the embodiment of creepy and crawly, and they are often used in scary films inhabiting dark corners of haunted houses and graveyards. In many countries spiders are thought of as mystical creatures due to their ability to spin webs, in folklore they have been described as storytellers, oracles of fate and sometimes death!
Wolf spiders will chase down their prey before leaping on top of it, like actual wolves! They may look creepy, but wolf spiders are very handy in the garden at keeping pests under control!
Nocturnal creatures with wide eyes, tufts of feathers shaped like horns and echoing cries; owls association with the supernatural goes back many years. In folklore owls have often been linked to witches and ghosts. It was once believed that witches could turn themselves into an owl and would swoop down and suck the blood of babies. Many also believed that owls were the only animals that could live with ghosts, so if one was found nesting in a house, that house must be haunted!
In truth, owls are beautiful, majestic birds, and they help control populations of mice, voles, rats, slugs, insects and more!
With their slimy, warty skin and long tongues, toads have a long history in mystical folklore. They are another creature that is often associated with witches, in the middle ages, people with warts were thought to have touched a toad that was poisoned by a witch. In literature and film, witches are often seen putting toads into caldrons to make potions and some cultures also believe having a toad enter your house is a sign of bad luck.
The common toad actually walks rather than hops, they are famous for their mass migrations back to their breeding ponds on the first warm, damp evenings of the year.
Photos: Common Pipistrelle - Tom Marshall, Wolf Spider - Margaret Holland, Barn Owl - Russel Savory, Common Toad - John Bridges