28 Oct 2021


At WWF-Australia we love all creatures great and small. No matter where they live in the world. It’s our job. However, there are some that, well, let’s just say we have a healthy respect for. They are often the subject of bad press, superstition and myth, sometimes reaching way back in history. Some are the icons of Halloween and Friday 13th.

Frightening, with bad habits and curious ways, there are some creepy creatures here that you will of course know but there are others... others that may wish you never knew about. Delve in to the horror below, if you dare!

1. Wingless bat fly

Found: throughout the world.

Nycteribiidae - wingless bat fly
© Gilles San Martin from Namur= Belgium= CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>= via Wikimedia Commons

© Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not a bat. It’s not a fly. But it looks like a spider and it’s flat. Bat flies belong to two families - Nycteribiidae and Streblidae. The Nycteribiidae fly is wingless and blind and is what’s called an ‘ectoparasite’. This highly unattractive external parasite is also known as a louse fly. And the one thing it lives for is blood. It must drink the blood of bats to survive. Only bats. It is the vampire’s vampire! It nests in the fur and wings and holds on tight with sharp claws and a spiky haired body.

2. Death's-head hawkmoth

Found: Europe, Africa and Asia.

Acherontia atropos (Death’s-head hawkmoth)
© Muséum de Toulouse= CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>= via Wikimedia Commons

© Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This moth is the size of a bat and cloaked in black with a skull on its back. Well, that sounds comforting. Meet the death’s-head hawkmoth with a wingspan of around 150mm. Oh, and it’s able to squeak and spurt fluid when threatened. Lovely, impressive, and one of the classic creepy insects favoured in horror movies as a portent of death. It may not kill you outright but let’s just say you don’t want to receive one in the mail on Halloween.  

3. Owl

Found: Everywhere in the world except Antarctica.

Brown Owl on Tree Branch
© Erik Karits via Pexels

© Erik Karits via Pexels

These feathered friends have long been viewed as portents of death and disaster. Hearing the hoot of an owl, even today is thought to be an unlucky omen. In Roman times, they were an omen of imminent death and today in many cultures are still considered a creature that would steal your soul. Many owls can turn their head through 270 degrees, but they can’t move their eyes in their sockets. Now that’s creepy. Plus, they make virtually no noise when flying due to special feathers that break the airflow over their wings. They may be considered wise, but they’ve got bad press when it comes to Halloween.

4. Earthworm

Found: Anywhere in the world where there's moist soil and dead plant material.

© Patricia Maine Degrave via Pixabay

© Patricia Maine Degrave via Pixabay

They have no eyes, they’re covered in slime, and they live deep in the ground. Earthworms are one of the strangest creatures. They have five hearts. They are hermaphrodites (male and female in one body). And they breathe through their skin. Giant worms don’t just exist in the Dune universe. In Australia, they come big. Take the giant Gippsland earthworm — about a metre long and two centimetres wide. Above ground, you can hear them gurgling beneath your feet. And below ground? Well, there’s nothing like the sound a giant worm makes when it’s squelching its way in the darkness along its wet burrow.

5. Crow

Found: On all temperate continents except South America and several islands.

© Tyler Quiring via Unsplash

© Tyler Quiring via Unsplash

Just because you’re all shiny and black, you get called a harbinger of doom. Once considered the companions of witches and capable of giving one the evil eye, these birds are in fact one of the most intelligent species on the planet and can solve tricky puzzles. Nevertheless, crows like to scavenge and feed on the dead bodies of animals and tend to gather around their dead in an eerie kind of ritual. Oh, one more thing, they have excellent memories so don’t give a crow reason to hate you because they can recognise people’s faces and voices. No surprise they’ve earned the collective noun - ‘a murder of crows’.

6. Eastern Brown Snake 

Found: Australia

Pseudechis australis King brown snake One of the most venomous snakes in the world, Australia
© Martin Harvey / WWF

© Martin Harvey / WWF

Also known as the common brown snake, there’s nothing common about this Aussie serpent’s venom, which is considered the second most toxic of any land snake on Earth. And with notoriously bad tempers, they’re very aggressive. These snakes have caused more deaths than any other snake species in Australia.

7. Tasmanian devil 

Found: Once lived on mainland Australia, now only found in the wild in Tasmania. 

Tasmanian devil at cradle mountain sanctuary
© WWF-Aus / Madeleine Smitham

© Madeleine Smitham / WWF

This vicious carnivorous marsupial is always ready to chomp down and enjoy its preferred food - a rotting carcass. So why are they called devils? Well, they often get into fights and let loose flesh creeping howls - the sort of screeching sounds that come from a creature possessed. They’re about the size of a small dog and look quite sweet when their mouths are shut but when they open, beware - sharp teeth line the Tassie devil's jaws. Plus the heavy muscles around the jawbone give these little treasures of nature a powerful bite that easily shatters bones to pieces. With a super-sharp sense of smell, this beast from Hell can pick up the scent of a dead animal from several miles away.

8. Goblin Shark

Found: Caught in scattered localities through the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans and even off the New South Wales coast.

Mistukurina owstoni (Goblin Shark)
© Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria= CC BY 3.0 AU <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en>= via Wikimedia Commons

© Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria Muséum de ToulouseCC BY 3.0 AU, via Wikimedia Commons

You really don’t want to meet this creature while you’re out for a sunny summer swim. Mind you, it is a deep-sea shark. And it is quite rare. Nevertheless, it’s an absolute fright to look at! Coming in at around 3-4 metres in length this charmer has a slender, flabby, pink skinned body, a long, flat snout and ghoulish jaws with very prominent nail-like teeth. If you want to talk jaws for a moment, this horror from the deep has what’s known as ‘slingshot jaws’. When prey is near they open wide then shoot their jaws forward at 3.1 metres per second. This is by far the fastest and greatest jaw protrusion of all sharks. And faster than most cobra strikes. I’m giving this a Creep Factor of 10!

9. Dead man's fingers

Found: In woodlands in Australia, Ireland, England, Europe and North America.

Xylaria polymorpha (dead mans fingers)
© CC BY 3.0 AU, via Wikimedia Commons

© No author provided, CC BY 3.0 AU, via Wikimedia Commons

Be careful in the woods in case you stumble across a buried hand. No, it’s not a zombie rising from the dead. You haven’t just found a body buried in a shallow grave. It’s just a harmless fungus. Isn’t it? Quite dull looking, dead man’s fingers usually grow from the bases of rotting or injured tree stumps, sometimes with the appearance of reaching up out of the ground. The swollen finger-like fungi have a black coating and are grouped together in close clusters. Have you tried eating one? No? Good. Don’t.

10. Coconut crab

Found: Across the Indian and Pacific Ocean

Giant coconut crab (Birgus latro)
© Martin Harvey / WWF

© Martin Harvey / WWF

These nocturnal monsters are enormous and frightening looking and they climb trees. They have extremely powerful pincers, which are considered some of the most dangerous weapons in the animal kingdom. Experts say a pinch from a coconut crab can be equal to a bite from a lion. Also, coconut crabs will eat both plants and animals. The fact is, these giant crabs have been known to kill chickens, birds, and rip apart pig carcasses. They also eat other coconut crabs. But on the upside, they quite like coconuts.

Tip: If one has you in its grip just tickle the underparts of its body with something soft, and it might let go. Might.

Happy Halloween… and good luck sleeping well tonight.