Creepy Crawlies, Hairy & Scary…Myths about Vampire Bats and other Animals Associated with Halloween

Halloween is all about spooky, scary things—especially spooky, scary animals. For many people, the thrills and adrenaline rush they get from being scared is their favorite part of Halloween. Fortunately, many of the spooky and scary things attributed to the animals commonly associated with Halloween are in fact false! Unfortunately, these myths lead to very negative images and feelings by people toward these animals.

A myth is generally a traditional story that explains aspects of the natural world. These stories are often handed down from one generation to another and may be completely fictitious or even fully factual, but often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The most important thing to remember is that in nature there are no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Each animal species has an important role to play.

Snakes

Snakes look so different from us, are cold-blooded, constantly flick their tongues… Is it any wonder there are so many snake myths?

Myth: Snakes are slimy and clammy to the touch.

No snake is slimy. Their scales are actually quite smooth and dry, with not one ounce of slime present. Depending on where you find one, it will either be warm or cool to the touch. This is because snakes are cold-blooded—they cannot create their own body heat and their body temperature is the same as the temperature of the environment where you find them.

Myth: Snakes can hypnotize humans and animals with their eyes.

A snake cannot hypnotize a person or animal with their eyes or in any other way.

Myth: Whenever a “hoop” snake is scared, it will bite its tail, form a circle- or hoop-shape, and then roll away like a wheel. Another version of the myth says that it will form a hoop shape and then chase the offender.

There is no such thing as a “hoop” snake. No snake will bite its tail, form a hoop and roll away—it is an anatomical impossibility. When snakes are frightened and wish to escape, they just slither away.

Myth: We have copperheads and water moccasins here in Michigan. 

Neither of these species is found in Michigan. Copperheads are found as far north as north-central Ohio while water moccasins only venture as far north as southwestern Indiana. The only species of venomous snake found in here is the Massassauga rattlesnake. 

Bats

There are many negative myths about these amazing creatures of the dark. Unfortunately, these myths give bats a reputation that they don't deserve. Here are a couple of the most popular:

Myth: Bats fly into people's hair.

While this is probably the most widely believed bat myth, it is simply not true. What reason would bats have for flying into someone’s hair? They are actually such aerobatic flyers that they catch insects out of the air, often while maneuvering through tree limbs and other obstacles at a high rate of speed.

Myth: Vampire bats bite the neck and suck blood from people.

There really are vampire bats, but they live only in tropical regions of Central and South America. While they do feed on blood, it is normally animal blood. The bat drinks by making a quick slice with its sharp teeth and lapping up a small amount of blood. They do not latch on and suck blood, and they certainly don't turn animals—or people—into vampires! In fact, vampire bats actually have helped people.

Vampire bat saliva contains anticoagulants—chemicals that keep blood from clotting. Scientists have studied these substances and developed a medicine to help heart patients. And it’s called Draculin!

Owls

There may be no group of animals that have as many myths about them as owls. These myths are present from human’s earliest recorded history to the present, and in almost every culture throughout the world. Owl myths are fascinating because of the sheer volume of stories and their tremendous and eclectic diversity—they range from simple and straightforward to extremely weird and bizarre.  Here is just a very small sample:

Myth: Owls are wise. 

While scientists who study animal intelligence would not rank owls very high, there are many cultures in which owls are considered wise. In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom and her mascot was the owl. Some of the coins in ancient Greece were called owls because they had the likeness of Athena on one side and a picture of an owl on the other.

Myth: Owls are harbingers of death.

In many cultures throughout the world, owl hoots or screeches are a sign of impending doom or death. Some cultures take this myth even further, insisting that a dead owl hung outside the door is the only way to prevent this death.

Myth: Owls are messengers.

In almost every culture, owls are considered a messenger—usually to and from the afterlife or underworld. This messenger role may be positive or negative, depending on the culture—the owl may be bringing a message from the afterlife back to a living loved one, or it could be coming with a message that someone close to you is about to die.

Myth: If you walk around an owl in a tree, it will turn and turn its head to watch you until it wrings its own neck.

This is obviously not true, but probably arose from the fact that owls can rotate their heads further than any other bird: 270° in each direction. That makes their range of motion 540°!

Myth: Owls have medicinal properties.

An early English folk cure for alcoholism was owl egg. The imbiber was prescribed raw eggs to end their dependency on the drink, while giving children this treatment was believed to give them a lifetime of protection against drunkenness.

Other uses of owl eggs: Cooked until they turned into ashes, they were also used as a potion to improve eyesight. Also, owl broth was given to children suffering from whooping cough.

Spiders

Spiders have long been associated with Halloween. Considered spooky and scary by many, Arachnophobia is the most common animal phobia.

Myth: Spiders found in bathtubs or sinks have come up through the drains from the sewers.

People are often reluctant to confront the idea that the spiders in their house live there all the time. Spiders cannot migrate into a house through plumbing; modern drains contain a liquid-filled sediment trap through which spiders cannot penetrate. However, spiders in your house do get thirsty and are living in a very water-poor environment. Any that venture near a sink or tub with drops of water in it will try to reach the water, often by climbing down a wall. Once in the slick-sided porcelain basin, they are unable to climb back out unless a helpful human “helps” them.

Myth: The bite of the Daddy Long-legs Spider is the most deadly of all.

This myth probably arose from the observation that daddy long-legs spiders sometimes kill and eat Red-back spiders. Since the Red-back is itself a poisonous spider, the assumption was made that the daddy long-legs spider must be MORE poisonous.

Myth: Spiders can fly.

Spiders cannot fly. However for many species, a few days after a spiderling has hatched, it releases a long thread of silk into a breeze. Eventually enough silk is produced to lift the young spider up into the air. They can ride the wind thermals and currents like a sky-driver or balloonist, sometimes being carried high up into the stratosphere and travelling for hundreds or even thousands of miles. To land, the spiderling simply climbs along its parachute and rolls it up. “Ballooning” is an important factor in the distribution of many species all over the world.

Myth: All “hairy” spiders are tarantulas.

The true tarantula is a European wolf spider named after the town of Taranto in southern Italy. The venom of this spider was considered to be extremely dangerous and people bitten had to avoid falling into a coma by dancing to a lively tune known as the tarantella (sounds like they just needed a good reason to party!). It is now known that the venom of the wolf spider is not dangerous and the bites causing a reaction were probably inflicted by the black widow spider. Unfortunately, the term “tarantula” has been used by many people, including scientists, to describe many species of “hairy” spiders.