Creepy animals have long been associated with Halloween, but are toads, bats and spiders truly scary?
The National Wildlife Federation wants to dispel a few myths. Share this info with your kids!
Bloodsucking vampire bats are real, but they feed mostly on chickens and cows, and they live only in Latin America. Most North American bats are insect eaters, feeding on everything from moths to mosquitoes to beetles. They use echolocation (like radar) instead of eyesight to find their prey. In fact, they tend to have beady little eyes and weird-shaped faces, which make them look scary. But those faces help capture sound waves bouncing off prey and other objects.
Many bat species are entering into hibernation in caves or hollow trees, but some fly south for the winter.
Spiders, with their eight legs and multiple eyes, are creatures right out of our nightmares—and their sticky webs and venomous fangs don’t help their public image. While they may look frightening, they’re extremely beneficial predators, keeping many insect pests at bay. And only three species in the United States have venom considered strong enough to hurt people: the black widow, the brown recluse and the hobo—and their bites are very rare.
In the fall, female spiders guard egg sacks that hold the next generation of spiders.
Toads are more than a key ingredient in witches’ brews; they’re important environmental indicators. All amphibians are susceptible to environmental toxins because of their sensitive skin. They are usually the first species to die out in polluted areas. If you have healthy toad populations in your neighborhood, it’s likely to be fairly unpolluted. And, no, you cannot catch warts from touching a toad.
Toads are voracious pest predators in the warm months, but they go into underground hibernation by late fall and won’t emerge until spring.
A wolf’s howl can cause either heart-rending terror or spiritual inspiration. People have vilified and glorified wolves throughout history, but the real-life wild canines are neither hounds from hell nor spiritual guides. In reality, gray wolves are top predators that play a key role in balancing the ecosystem. They control deer and other prey populations, as well as other predators lower down the food chain (coyotes and raccoons).
Once found throughout North America, the only remaining gray wolf populations live in limited regions of the United States and Canada in wilderness areas. They go out of their way to avoid humans. At this time of year, they are in the process of growing their thick winter coats to guard against winter’s bitter temperatures.
Their nocturnal habits, glowing eyes and utterly silent flight make predatory owls the epitome of eeriness. It turns out that all of these characteristics are simply adaptations for survival. Owls are nocturnal to avoid competition for prey with day-flying hawks. Their giant eyes and fringed feathers—which make no noise when the bird is flying—allow them to hunt in the dark.
Most owls are year-round residents and don’t migrate. Listen for the hoot-hoot-hoot of the great horned owl or the whinnying shriek of the screech owl when trick-or-treating this year!
Now that you know the truth about such valuable wildlife, head outside to look for them. Consider attracting them to your organic yard (except the wolves!). Click here for information on how to turn your property into a wildlife habitat.