The Coolest and Ghoulish

Every day is Halloween if you know where to look in nature.

Nature doesn’t need a costume to conjure up thoughts of ghosts and goblins.  In honor of the season, meet a few creatures that are among the coolest and the ghoulish.

Phantom Forests

Maryland’s Eastern Shore preserves are full of tiny ghosts that sway or wiggle to spook you away.  These are boogie woogie aphids, also known as the bleach blight aphid. The boogie woogies are actually translucent blue, but covered in white waxy fluff that deters predators from eating them. They live in groups on American beech trees, giving the branches a fluffy appearance.

Like other aphids, the boogie woogies secrete honeydew.  This sticky and sweet excrement is exclusively associated with a fungus called “sooty mold”, which turns tree branches black.  The aphids and sooty mold rarely cause harm to the plant, but simply add a spooky ambiance to the forest.

What Does the Fox Say?

Often appearing as a symbol of cunning and trickery, the red fox has an extensive vocabulary of over 40 calls.  They’re commonly misidentified at night because few associate the blood-curdling shrieks they hear with the beautiful, sly fox.

Feed Me, Seymour

For insects looking for a place to land, the pitcher plant seems like the perfect oasis.  Unfortunately for the unsuspecting invertebrate, these beautiful, sweet-smelling plants hide a unique survival feature – they’re carnivorous.  Bugs slip and slide into the tube where downward facing hairs make escape impossible.  They end up in a pool of enzymes where they are slowly digested.

Four species of pitcher can be found in North Carolina’s Green Swamp Preserve, which is home to one of the most diverse carnivorous plant populations in the world.  The life cycle of this preserve is tied, in part, to fire.  The low intensity fires of a controlled burn knock back shrubby vegetation, creating sunny, open spaces where pitcher plants thrive.

Holy Nature, Batman!

As creatures of the night, bats are obvious Halloween favorites.  What’s really scary is the bats’ devastating disappearing act. A disease called white-nose syndrome has killed more than 6 million cave-hibernating bats in the eastern US and Canada.  Despite this terrifying statistic, there is cause for hope.  In Tennessee, we’re working on innovative solutions to combat white nose syndrome.  From artificial caves that can be disinfected of the tell-tale white fungus that causes the syndrome, to bacteria based biocontrols that may be able to treat the disease, there is hope that we can prevent extinctions and allow healthy bat populations to rebound.

Discover more spooky science about bats with our Top 10 Bat Facts.

Masters of Disguise

Something with the name flannel moth might evoke images of comfort and warmth during the winter months. And as caterpillars they certainly don’t look like they could cause anyone much discomfort.  But these cute, fuzzy bugs may be the Jekyll and Hyde of the forest.  Each of the caterpillar’s hairs has venomous spines that cause a stinging, painful rash and welts when anything—or anyone—comes in contact with them. Flannel moths are common throughout the southern and eastern United States and feed on deciduous trees, such as oaks.

Who Goes There?

Black-crowned night herons haunt the woods in their own special way. They appear to sit hunched over, wearing a dark cloak, waiting for small fish, crayfish and frogs to swim by. Night hikes and camping can quickly turn creepy when these birds call.  They make a jarring noise that and pierces the quiet of night.


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