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Halloween Horrors, Courtesy of Mother Nature

Sep 30, 2018 09:07PM ● By Julie Ross

Julie Ross

Halloween Horrors, Courtesy of Mother Nature

 

By Julie Ross

 

It’s that time of year – people are hauling out their supposedly fearsome décor featuring owls and bats. Ho-hum. Not scary! Local bats help control the insect population and our neighborhood owls dispose of many unwanted rodents -- not particularly terrifying behaviors.

 

That is not to say there are not truly creepy, Halloween-worthy living things among us. Please note before you read further – what I am about to share with you is not for the squeamish. Consider yourself warned.

 

This fall I am enrolled in the University of California Naturalist Certification Program for the Diablo Region. A recent class featured a guest speaker on the topic of mycology – mushrooms and other fungi. Sounds innocuous, right? Well, think again.

 

I would like to invite you to watch a chilling video starring parasitic jungle fungi, Cordyceps: Attack of the Killer Fungi, masterfully narrated by David Attenborough. You can find it on YouTube. The video begins with an ant whose body and mind have been infected with spores from a cordyceps fungus. The disoriented ant climbs up a tree limb and grabs onto it with its jaws. Over time, the fruiting body of the fungus erupts from the ant’s head (!) and snakes its way upward. After a few weeks, the fungus bursts and spews enough spores to infect a whole colony. Clearly a must-watch for Halloween -- a real-life version of the thriller film Alien.

 

So, after I viewed the killer fungus video, I was naturally glued to my computer screen and watched another video in the YouTube line-up, eager to see what further creepiness would ensue. Kung Fu Mantis vs. Jumping Spider did not disappoint. Another must-watch. (As an aside, if you could pull it off, a Kung Fu mantis outfit would be a shoo-in for first place in any Halloween costume contest.) Really, you have to take a look. Watch until the end for a surprise visit from Kung Fu’s nemesis, the beautiful but cannibalistic orchid mantis.

 

My final entry in the “Horrors of Mother Nature” category for this Halloween season is the botfly. This small tropical insect attaches its eggs to a mosquito. When the mosquito lands on a human to feed, the botfly eggs become warm enough to hatch. The newly hatched tiny larvae burrow into the person’s skin via the mosquito bite or hair follicles, where they dine on the inflamed tissue surrounding them and grow up to an inch in length. If left unchecked, these spiny parasitic maggots eventually wiggle their way out of the wound they have created.

 

For reasons that are perhaps obvious after reading the above, I am not going to recommend a video of a botfly larval extraction from human flesh. I watched a couple and wish I hadn’t. (Can’t un-see those images, unfortunately.)

 

I will, however, recommend a visit to Lindsay Wildlife Experience, October 23-31, for Not So Scary Animals. There will be special programs featuring bats, owls, and spiders during normal exhibit hall hours. On the evening of Thursday, October 25, from 5:30 until 8pm, the annual “Howl-ooo-een” event will take place at Lindsay. The food truck arrives at 5pm. For more information and to purchase Howl-ooo-ween tickets, visit the website at www.lindsaywildife.org.

 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

 

You can reach Julie at [email protected]