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Why Are Bats, Spiders And Even Owls Considered The Scary Creatures of Halloween?
Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 by eNature
Tarantula in burrow
Tarantula in burrow
© Xoque

In most people’s minds, Halloween means vampires and witches, bats, owls and spiders. Even the mere mention of these creatures sends shivers through some folks. Vampires and witches—a fear of them is understandable.

But what is it about bats, owls, and spiders that makes people associate them with evil?

One trait these creatures share is a preference for darkness. They’re active mainly at night, which runs counter to our own diurnal tendencies. As a result, people tend to regard night animals as demonic.

What Makes Bats So Scary?
Consider the bat, which has long been associated with the darker side of our subconscious. Because bats appear only at night and vanish during the day, it was believed that bats were the souls of sleeping people. Likewise, depictions of the devil customarily feature batlike wings and ears (angel wings, meanwhile, are birdlike). And since bats often dwell in caves, people commonly associate them with the underworld.

As for the connection between bats and vampires, experts trace it to an ancient Asian myth involving night spirits that feed upon the blood of sleeping victims. True vampire bats exist only in the American tropics and were not described in scientific literature until 1810. The first literary work in which a vampire transforms into a bat and flies at night in search of human victims was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” published in 1897.

But Why Owls?
Owls, too, are also generally associated with death and the underworld because of their nocturnal habits. The most widespread species, the Barn Owl, with its ghostly appearance and blood-curdling shriek, is considered a bad omen in cultures throughout the world. Several African cultures depict owls as spirits of the dead and as omens that foretell the death of anyone who sees them.

One notable exception is the Inuit belief that the Snowy Owl is a good omen. Perhaps the reason for this unusually positive view of an owl is that the Snowy Owl is a daytime creature. Diurnal activity is a necessity for this owl: it lives above the Arctic Circle where the period of breeding and peak prey abundance coincide with the endless daylight of Arctic summer.

OK, Maybe Spiders Really Are Scary To Some Folks!
Spiders are not an exclusively nocturnal group, either, though many species, especially those that hunt actively on the ground, favor darkness. These are the species most likely to hide in cupboards and clothing, which doesn’t help their reputation. Perhaps the reason spiders inspire such negative responses is that they tend to be most numerous in the dark recesses of places like caves and old buildings. Also, despite the fact that most spiders are harmless to humans, poisonous species can be found on every continent.

Yet the current link between spiders and evil is not consistent with their usual treatment. Traditional myths repeatedly feature spiders as creators and omens of good fortune. The sheetweb spiders (family Linyphiidae) are known in Europe as “money spiders” because it’s believed that an encounter with one means a person will soon receive some cash. Still, most haunted houses include spiders alongside the bats, owls, and witches, and these are meant to play upon our darkest fears—or should that be our fear of the dark?


Have you had any scary critter encounters this Halloween season?  Or your own theory why folks find these critters so frightening?

We always love it when our readers share their stories!

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Comments

Scary spiders—blame “Little Miss Muffet”. We’re all programmed to be frightened by spiders from this early nursery rhyme.

Posted by Mango on 10/25

Spiders might be scary because they have so many unsettling characteristics.  Take their eight legs, scuttling gait, and ability to walk on walls.  They are quiet, so one may come upon a spider unexpectedly. That’s enough to give most of us a jolt. I’ll never forget the time I opened my mailbox and found a black widow spider inside.  Just the memory gives me the shivers.  Then there’s the way spiders make their living:  a gooey, sticky web to trap their prey and suck its juices. In the book Charlotte’s Web, gentle Wilbur had to think carefully to come to terms with Charlotte’s “bloodthirsty habits”. Many people really dislike the feel of cobwebs on their skin or in their hair.

All in all, spiders are so different from humans, as are other invertebrates.  We’re programmed by evolution to be wary of things that are different from us.  Spiders certainly fit that bill.

Posted by Holly on 10/25

I’m not afraid of bats or spiders. I enjoy seeing a bat come out in my yard on summer nights because I know it is feasting on mosquitoes. I have never had a bad experience with the bats in my yard. On the other hand, mosquitoes carry diseases which can be fatal in some cases, usually to animals and in rare cases to humans, so we should be very wary of mosquitoes.
I see spiders frequently in my basement windows and try to leave them alone. Occasionally, I take
time to round them up, gently, and release them outside since I believe they also eat other insects.
However, a few days ago, I received what I believe is a spider bite. I never saw the spider, but it might have been in my closet. I had two bites on my arm that caused swelling, bruising and pain. My doctor gave me an antibiotic. Again,
this has never happened to me before. Still, it is no reason to fear spiders, just perhaps to be more watchful.
spiders

Posted by Pat on 10/25

Nothing wrong with Spiders.  Some Native Americans have a myth (or a truth) that Grandmother Spider made men from clay (red, yellow and black).  She had a woven bag to help her.  Also, she does sit on your shoulder and tell you which way to go.

Posted by Upstate NY on 10/25

I think the scoot-stop-scoot rhythm of their “scuttling gait” (That’s a great descriptor, Pat!) is startling.  Their lungs are teeny, with very limited surface area for respiration.  They can only keep up a quick pace for short distances.  So, when we startle them, they go full bore but soon need to rest.  After a breather, they sprint away again.  I believe the unpredictability of their motion freaks people out.

Spiders are sooooo pretty!  Though I would never pick up a recluse, widow, hobo or other dangerous spider, I’ve never been bitten by any of the many spiders I’ve rescued with bare hands.

My favorite spider experience was picking up a momma wolf spider with her back covered in teeny spiderlings!

Posted by Audrey on 10/25

I have had a number of spiders among my friends.  I have some wonderful pictures of a large web between two orange trees that I protected for some time.  Also had one on my front porch that feasted on bugs which otherwise would have come in to visit.  And as for barn owls, I treasure the beautiful night photos of those who lived in my hollow poplar trees for about three years.  I miss them (not their “music” but their wonderful night flights between the trees)

Posted by Eileen Walker on 10/25

Here in western Japan we have loads of golden orb weaver spiders in the fall. They are big and gorgeous, with black and yellow stripes and a touch of red on the belly. They are also quite gentle and easy to handle.

I’ve seen some really huge, impressive webs of theirs out in the woods, but they tend to be smaller in town. Even then, I still hate to get a faceful of web when I’m lurking about in the dark.

I’m the most active creature around here at night. I hope my neighbors don’t regard me as “demonic”.

Posted by James on 10/26

I don’t mind bats at all when they’re outside eating bugs. In fact, I like to watch them.  It’s when they’re in my house that I don’t like them.  The FIRST time was when, at about 10p.m. I was reading in my livingroom when my dog started acting funny, looking at a chair.  I looked at the arm of the chair and wondered “Who got that black spot on the chair?”  I gt closer and saw it was a bat sitting there. It then flew and I tried to catch it. I did end up beating it to death with a fly swatter and threw it in the garbage.  My daughter bawled me out for killing it.  The next time one was in the house, I threw it outside.  A few nights later, I was in bed and I heard the cat running and jumping upstair.  Yup, another bat.  There were 3 of hem that night.  I killed them all.  Now I am not the bloodthirsty killer that it sounds like; it actually gives me the creeps. One evening I watched 48 bats come out of the gable vent of our house.  We’ve taken care of the bats (not killing them) in the house; we just have bat poop on our cars, now.

Posted by Kathy on 10/26

Bats are fine OUTSIDE but I definitely would take exception to having them come in to visit.  Seriously, they do help control vermin and are good to have (outside) but they also have a serious record of carrying rabies and are a threat to spreading the disease to other animals.  We have had numerous dead ones found here to be carriers.

Posted by Eileen Walker on 10/26

Early every spring we have between one and three tiny bats that roost in the eaves of our porch during the day until the ambient temperature rises to meet their biological needs. Bats are beautiful and are an integral part of the web of life.
Spiders are amazing. The other night I observed one so small and slender I did not recognize it until it moved. I never cease to be amazed by how something so small can have all of the physical requirements for life. While I do not like them in my bed, I know they eat insects - a non chemical pesticide!
Owls are just flat our beautiful.
I enjoyed reading the story of the golden orb spiders in Japan. Thank you!
I even think snakes are beautiful. But then I realize there are no mistakes in Gods universe and when I look carefully I find beauty in all life.

Posted by Katherine on 10/26

I’m terrified of spiders. I’ve been bitten too many times not to be. The bites are very painful and always get infected. The last time I got bitten, I could barely walk. I leave spiders alone outside, but any spider I find in the house gets whacked. I hate them.

Posted by Clifford on 10/26

I used to teach a unit on bats.  We would take gumballs, black construction paper and store bought eyes to make bat mobils.  The kids were eager to learn all about bats and teach their parents. 

I remember as a child cracking open muddauber nests to count the black widows inside. I always put spiders outside when I find them in the house. I’ve only been bitten once by some kind of small yellow spider.

Posted by Georgia on 10/26

There is absolutely nothing wrong with spiders, bats or owls.  They are all amaizing creatures.  During the warmer months my husband and I sit at our pond and watch the bats come out as the sun goes down.  We will even get our spot light out to see them dive for the bugs that are flying above the pond.  They are beautiful animals.  I’ve even had them fly just a few feet above my head.  It is amaizing to see them that close flying.  As for spiders I LOVE THEM!  I might be the only person I know who Loves those crazy little & big creatures.  If you don’t like them just take the time one day to stop and watch them spin their web and then you will have a different view on their existance.  Owls eat the mice that come iinto your house in the winter to stay warm.  If we didn’t have the owls then we would be over ran with those rodents.  All in all all of these creatures have their place in our world.  Just dont squish the spiders.  Grab a plastic container with a lid catch it in your house and then empty it outside.  You are helping the environment that way and saving a small life.  Happy Halloween:)

Posted by Aleta on 10/27

I taught a unit on spiders every October.  They are so helpful in controlling the flying insect population.  At home one year, a long-bodied cellar spider decided our chandelier in the dining room was a good place for a web.  Instant Halloween decor!  The kids loved it.

Posted by Nancy on 10/27

I think that people don’t like spiders because their bodies are so hairless and they look like disgusting balls about to pop.  Add to that,some have hairy legs ::shudder::  I prefer to think of them as Grandmother Spider or I would go insane when I saw one.

Posted by Upstate New York on 10/27

im not scared of any of them in fact owls are my fav animal and bat are cute

Posted by lexi on 10/27

IM AM SCARED OF SPIIDERS BECAUSE THEY CAN KILL YOU BUT

Posted by lexi on 10/27

IM WITH CLIFFORD IN TERRIFIED OF THEM

Posted by lexi on 10/27

For the most part, spiders are harmless and very useful.  I do take exception to black widows .. but I am not afraid of them ... I am bigger than they are.

Posted by Eileen Walker on 10/27

Arriving at our remote cabin very late one hot summers eve I went for a swim. Four bats joined me and flew just above me catching the insects that I stirred up as I swam. They stayed with me for fifteen minutes and I loved every minute of it. My girlfriends think I was crazy and ” didn’t they get in my hair”. I think it was awesome that I interacted with these beautiful creatures.

Posted by Doni on 10/28

Late August into Sept. we had a beautiful spider called Argiope Auranthia make a fascinating web in my front flower bed.  She was gorgeous yellow and black and had the most amazing web with a zipper like structure running down one side of it.  She stayed there for over 6 weeks and one day she was gone and so was the web. We do not kill any spiders in the gardens for they are very helpful as well as beautiful!

Posted by Mary Lee on 10/29

I looked up the Argiope Auranthia on Google.  It really is a beauty.  I do love spider webs and have no problem with the hard working spiders who build them.  There is room for all of use here and life would be much less rewarding without our fellow creatures.

Posted by Eileen Walker on 10/29

I was surprised to see a red bat actively feeding in broad daylight today - middle of the afternoon (in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, no less).

Very sketchy research seemed to indicate that they come out at dusk.  Is the change in usual behavior related to migration?

Posted by birdy on 11/2

I once saw a momma wolf spider, and Everybody freaked out but me. I was so interested! I might want to be studiying spiders soon!!

Posted by Misha on 11/8

My son in law was impressed with the large, beautiful spider web and its handsome builder which I guarded between two orange trees.  He didn’t know many people who appreciated spiders as he does.  He was so impressed he bought me a book of stickers for my birthday ... all spiders.
But, seriously, I do find the normal garden and house spiders to be useful friends.  In the house one does have to occasionally clear webs ... but if the spiders get to plentiful, I catch them and turn them loose outside.

Posted by Eileen Walker on 11/21
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