Halloween is not the only season when monsters creep, slither and lie in ambush among us. Indeed, there's little the imagination can conceive that Mother Nature hasn't already dreamed up in one of her fouler moods. Some are harmless enough — peaceful creatures merely cursed with frightful features. Others, however, deserve the dread their fearsome forms inspire.
You'll find both on this list, a guided tour of creatures not often seen outside of illustrated bestiaries, myths or nightmares. Enjoy — and pleasant dreams.
Squid ('Promachoteuthis sulcus')
If you think Dracula's fangs are creepy, take a look at the choppers on this squid, specifically Promachoteuthis sulcus. Its ghoulish-looking teeth — which some say look like an old guy's dentures — are found on its bottom side. Incredibly, they actually aren't teeth at all, but rather a set of lips covering its beak. (Yes, squid have beaks. But that's another story.) The marine animal, which (luckily) dwells far below the surface of the ocean, also has three rows of suckers on each arm [sources: Wild Facts, IFL Science].
Researchers don't know why Promachoteuthis sulcus has lips covering its beak, as only one specimen of this squid has ever been identified. It was captured by a German research vessel roughly 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) down in the murky depths of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The hijacked squid was a female child; its mantle, or the main part of its body, measured a mere inch (25 millimeters) at the time of its capture. So no one knows if mature Promachoteuthis sulcus stay relatively small, or if they grow monstrously large and even more freakish [sources: Wild Facts, IFL Science].
Venezuelan Poodle Moth
It has enormous, bulging black eyes. Long, brown, spiky antenna that stick out straight to each side. And a poofy, furry, white body. Put it all together and it becomes a terrifying look for a moth. And certainly something you wouldn't want to stumble upon flapping around your porch light.
This bizarre insect is a poodle moth, discovered in Venezuela in 2009. Dr. Arthur Anker of Kyrgyzstan was the person who found the poodle moth and wrote up its first description. Although the moth looks ghoulish to many, there are actually a number of other species that have a similar appearance, such as the muslin moth (Diaphora mendica) and the China silkworm moth (Bombyx mori) [sources: Ayre, Mikkelson].
The poodle moth doesn't have a Latin name, as it's not known what family it belongs to. But scientists say it's almost certainly in the Lasiocampidae family and the Artace genus. Oh, and about that furry coat: Although no one has yet stroked the poodle moth, its hair may not be as soft and cuddly as it looks. While animals grow hair for warmth, hairy insects use theirs for smelling and defense purposes [sources: Ayre, Science Explained].
Japanese Spider Crab
One glimpse of its pincers will leave you quaking. That's because the Japanese spider crab's claws are enormous — not to mention strong and known to cause serious injury. The crab itself is gigantic, with a leg span that can reach 12 feet (4 meters) [source: ViralNova].
The spindly legged crustacean, discovered in 1836, resides deep down in the ocean, typically at depths of some 490 to 980 feet (149 to 299 meters). That makes it hard to snare the creatures — it's dark way down there! — and it doesn't help that its long legs enable it to quickly scurry away. Just one Japanese fishery has the mettle to harvest the wily crustaceans; in certain parts of Japan, spider crabs are considered a delicacy [source: ViralNova].
These creepy crabs will eat pretty much anything smaller than they are. They'll also use their food and their surroundings (e.g., sponges) to camouflage themselves from their predators, mainly octopi larger than they are. The crabs got their moniker from their lengthy gams, which cause them to resemble daddy longlegs arachnids. They're believed to have a lifespan of about 100 years [source: ViralNova].
With unruly, mad-scientist hair, startlingly bright eyes, long, bony digits and oversized ears, the nocturnal aye-aye can easily give anyone a fright. The small, endangered mammal is only found on the island of Madagascar, where the locals consider them bad luck [source: National Geographic].
Aye-ayes live in the island's rain forest, and spend their lives up in the trees. Moving along tree branches, they tap, tap, tap with their unusually long middle fingers, listening for echoes. When they determine an insect tunnel lies inside a branch, they rip it open with their super-sized teeth to feast on the bugs within, fishing them out with their middle fingers. Aye-ayes, which are actually primates, also dig out insect larvae scurrying around under the bark. The tiny creatures, which are typically dark brown or black, are the only primates known to use echolocation to find their prey [sources: National Geographic, Nelson].
Aye-ayes have a 20-year lifespan. Or they should have. Unfortunately, since the Malagasy consider them bad luck, they're often killed on sight. And the modern-day destruction of their natural habitat hasn't helped. Now, as members of the critically endangered species list, aye-ayes are protected by law [source: National Geographic].
The star-nosed mole wouldn't look nearly as monstrous if it weren't for its proboscis. Pink and fleshy, with 22 tentacles that give it its star appearance, plus two ominous-looking eyes in the center (which are actually nostrils), the mole's nose is more reminiscent of a tiny octopus than a celestial body. Luckily for the mole, its ugly snout is quite useful [source: Stromberg].
Star-nosed moles are blind, and their odd noses help them find and grab the insects, worms and small fish upon which they love to nosh. When approaching something interesting, the mole first begins probing it with its outer tentacles, technically called rays. Then its inner sensors determine whether the object is something tasty to eat. The mole's nose, incidentally, is one of the most sensitive touch organs around, with more than 100,000 nerve endings. Its snout is also filled with more than 25,000 sensory receptors that it uses to navigate its way through underground tunnels [sources: Stromberg, Nelson].
These rat-sized creatures lurk in the bogs and wetlands of Canada and the eastern U.S. [source: Stromberg].
The natural world is home to more than 300 species of anglerfish, each uglier than the last, but we're mainly interested in some of the 160 species that lurk in the inhospitable depths of the world's oceans [source: BBC]. Between their upturned, gaping maws, needle-like teeth and distensible bellies, which stretch to digest prey twice their size, you wonder how they manage to feed at all. The answer lies in clever camouflage and a sinister trick of physiology: an evolved spine that juts out like a lantern and acts as phosphorescent bait, luring other fish to their doom. And if that isn't sinister enough, some species also sport spaghetti-like hipster beards [source: Pietsch].
Not monstrous enough for you? Wait until we delve into their nightmarish mating practices. In 25 species, once the comparatively tiny male anglerfish gives his mate-to-be a love nibble, his body physically fuses to hers. As he is absorbed, he loses his eyes and fins, unites his circulatory plumping with hers, and spends the rest of his life as a, pardon our French, sperm factory [source: Pietsch]. But hey, life is pretty hard in the freezing ocean depths, where pressures tilt toward the crushing, sunlight is nowhere to be seen and meals on the fin are both scarce and elusive [source: Pietsch].
Our next monstrous critter would look right at home among the mix-and-match features of mythical monsters like the cockatrice, the griffon and the hippogriff. Its long reddish, body, yellow-and-black camo-patterned wings and mantis-like head would make it stand out in any crowd of insects, but it's the scorpion-like tail that makes you want to keep your distance from this omnivore.
But before you reach for your black light, antivenin and critter-stompin' shoes, you should know that scorpionflies, like the species Panorpa nuptialis that lives in the fields and meadows of the south-central U.S., measure a mere 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) long [source: CAS]. Also, these members of the order Mecoptera (from the Greek for "long wings") confine their diets to plant materials like pollen, nectar and the occasional deceased or debilitated insect.
As for that stinger, well, it's the scorpionfly's genitalia, which males also employ in mating displays (you know the type). That's good news for our nightmares, but we're unsure as to how the females feel about it. Maybe that's why males come a'courtin' with small food offerings or delectable salivary secretions. After all, the females could kill them on a whim [sources: Meyer; Tumlison; The Wildlife Trusts].
Hey, no one said lovin' was easy.
We know what you're thinking: No one is allowed to bite your tongue but you. Well, fear not. You're probably safe, unless you happen to be a rose snapper. If so, we recommend steering clear of the Cymothoa exigua isopod. These little crustaceans, which suck the blood from the gouged tongues of fish after entering through their gills, will go one step further with you: They will actually replace your tongue and live off your blood supply — all while making little C. exigua babies in your mouth [source: Simon].
Isopods are a widely varied group of crustaceans, most of which live in the sea and many of which could easily have made the look-like-a-monster parade [source: King]. But these buggers compare unfavorably to the love child of an albino wood louse and that mind-control bug that crawled out of Chekov's ear in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Besides, this lingua-licking louse is the only known animal parasite that functionally supplants a host's organ, which we think earns it a mention on principle alone [source: Simon].
So next time you catch a rose snapper, pay close attention when you reach past those staring eyes and open the mouth. You might be in for a monstrous game of peekaboo.
Some critters are born with looks that horrify, others have to accessorize. Take Acanthaspis petax, one of the 7,000 known assassin bugs, which takes trophy collecting to a whole new level by decorating its spiny body with the corpses of its prey. Piles of them. Do they do this to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies? Actually, quite the opposite: They use the masking scent of the bodies to hide them from detection and, in some cases — as with termites, which clean their nests of their dead and so respond to the scent of termite corpses — to actually lure additional prey to their doom [sources: Simon; Stromberg].
Beneath their horrific haberdashery, these accessorizing assassins come with their own monstrous qualities as well, including a cactus-esque assemblage of bodily spines and a long, hardened mouthpart called a rostrum. The latter is used to pierce the exoskeleton of its meal, so that the bug can inject a paralytic and a toxin that turns the insect's innards into a slurpable smoothie. It then brings its maxillae into play and gulps away [sources: Simon; Stromberg]. Ah, delicious deception.
Wyrms, dragons, sea serpents: From mythically symbolizing primordial chaos to supplying fodder for centuries of tall tales on the high seas, these creatures have occupied our collective imaginations for as long as anyone can remember. But could they exist -- or, at least, be based on something that does?
Over the years, we've advanced several candidates to explain alleged sightings of these legendary creatures, from porpoises swimming in single file to masses of seaweed, giant squids or even enormous nemertines (marine ribbon worms) [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].
But none quite measures up like Regalecus glesne, a sort of ribbon fish that sweeps through the deep waters (650-3,000 feet, or roughly 200-900 meters) of the tropics and subtropics and reaches maximum lengths estimated at 30.5-50-plus feet (around 9-15-plus meters) [source: NOAA]. Named for the long, reddish and oar-like pelvic fins that trail roughly half its body length, the world's largest bony fish is also notable for its red dorsal fin and crest, which rises from its head like a rooster comb from hell [sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Griggs].
For all its fearsome size, the oarfish is harmless to anything but the tiny fish, shrimp or other invertebrates that filter into its toothless maw. It's also elusive. Unless sick or dying, these sinuous beasts rarely show up in human-frequented waters — a fact, we suspect, that only enhances its legendary status.
The two words mean very different things and are often used incorrectly. We'll clear up the confusion.
Author's Note: 10 Animals That Look Like Monsters
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, in any case, has little to do with evolutionary fitness or survival. What might fail to win pageants or make the covers of Trapper Keepers might well thrive in environments more hostile than we can fathom and equip gear more perfectly suited to its needs than our dexterous fingers. Surely, there is beauty in that, too.
More Great Links
- Ayre, James. "Venezuelan Poodle Moth -- Facts, Hoax, Pictures." Planetsave. July 11, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://planetsave.com/2013/07/11/venezuelan-poodle-moth-facts-hoax-and-video/
- BBC. "Anglerfish." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Anglerfish
- California Academy of Sciences. "Panorpa nuptialis." (Oct. 14, 2014) http://research.calacademy.org/ent/resources/mecoptera/northamerica/panorpa_nuptialis
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Oarfish." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/423487/oarfish
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Sea Serpent." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530718/sea-serpent
- Griggs, Mary Beth. "This Rare Footage Shows Two Live 15-Foot-Long Oarfish Swimming in the Ocean." Smithsonian magazine. April 7, 2014. (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/rare-footage-worlds-largest-fish-180950448/?no-ist
- IFL Science. "Creepiest Looking Animals in the World." (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.wild-facts.com/2012/wild-fact-171-the-tooth-behind-the-squid-with-teeth/
- King, Rachel. "Isopods." Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. 2004. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/sertc/Isopod%20Crustaceans.pdf
- Meyer, John. "Mecoptera." North Carolina State University. April 8, 2009. (Oct. 12, 2014) http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/library/compendium/mecoptera.html
- Mikkelson, David. "Venezuelan Poodle Moth." Snopes. July 10, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/poodlemoth.asp
- National Geographic. "Aye-Aye." (Sept. 23, 2016) http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/aye-aye/
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Oarfish (Regalecus glesne Ascanius)" (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/speciesid/fish_page/fish82a.html
- Nelson, Bryan. "13 of the ugliest animals on the planet: Aye-aye." Mother Nature Network. Feb. 16, 2016. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-of-the-ugliest-animals-on-the-planet/aye-aye#top-desktop
- Nelson, Bryan. "13 of the ugliest animals on the planet: Star-nosed mole." Mother Nature Network. Feb. 16, 2016. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-of-the-ugliest-animals-on-the-planet/star-nosed-mole#top-desktop
- Pietsch, Theodore W. "Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea." University of California Press. April 2009.
- Pietsch, Theodore W. "Precocious Sexual Parasitism in the Deep Sea Ceratioid Anglerfish, Cryptopsaras Couesi Gill." Nature. Vol. 256. Page 38. July 3, 1975. (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v256/n5512/abs/256038a0.html
- Science Explained. "Is the Venezuelan Poodle Moth as soft and cuddly as it looks?" Sept. 4, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://science-explained.com/blog/2013/09/04/is-the-venezuelan-poodle-moth-as-soft-and-cuddly-as-it-looks/
- Simon, Matt. "The Ferocious Bug That Sucks Prey Dry and Wears Their Corpses." Wired. June 20, 2014. (Oct. 12, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2014/06/absurd-creature-of-the-week-assassin-bug/
- Simon, Matt. "This Parasite Eats a Fish's Tongue -- and Takes Its Place." Wired. Nov. 22, 2013. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-the-parasite-that-eats-and-replaces-a-fishs-tongue/
- Stromberg, Joseph. "How the Star-Nosed Mole 'Sees' With Its Ultra-Sensitive Snout." Smithsonian. Jan. 30, 2013. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-the-star-nosed-mole-sees-with-its-ultra-sensitive-snout-8926067/?no-ist
- Tumlison, Renn. "A Flying Scorpion is Harmless." Henderson State University. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.hsu.edu/pictures.aspx?id=1302
- The Wildlife Trusts. "Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis)." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/scorpion-fly
- ViralNova. "10 Reasons Why The Giant Spider Crab Is The Crustacean Of Your Nightmares." Oct. 25, 2014. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.viralnova.com/nightmare-giant-spider-crab/
- Wild Facts. "Wild Fact #171 -- The 'Tooth' Behind the Squid With Teeth." (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.wild-facts.com/2012/wild-fact-171-the-tooth-behind-the-squid-with-teeth/