Things that go bump in the night by Sarah Foot

  • ‘Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

    Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,

    Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,’

    William Shakespeare, Macbeth 1605

    Certain animals have always had ‘scary’ connotations as depicted in the well-known incantation of the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and have become closely associated with the spooky celebrations of Halloween, yet these creatures regularly fall victim to false myths.

    Bats are one of the most commonly misunderstood UK species probably because of their historic association with vampires and sucking blood. All UK bat species are insectivorous and none drink blood; the vampire bat from Central and South America does drink blood but typically targets livestock only licking approximately a spoonful of blood. A common misconception is that bats may get stuck in a person’s hair resulting in severe phobias of these small furry creatures. Bats are in fact excellent flyers and expert at avoiding obstacles in their path; some species like the brown long-eared bat can glean insects off leaves without even touching the foliage.

    Spiders and their cobwebs are a popular choice for decorations at Halloween and again are a much maligned group of animals. None of the 650 species of spider in the UK are of any danger to us with only a handful capable of biting us. Spiders are shy creatures and not aggressive, therefore do not deserve this reputation given the vital role that they play as a natural pest control.

    Barn owls have been tied to the legend of the Banshee in Ireland due to their eerie and characteristic territorial screech. Their ghost-like white bodies and silent flight understandably brings about thoughts of ghosts and ghouls but their beautiful heart-shaped faces are a delight to see foraging over meadows at dusk.

    Reptiles and amphibians also get a bad name and their scaly, warty and slimy skins can stimulate negative reactions yet if anyone has ever carefully held one of the UK reptile species they will know that they are surprisingly smooth and soft. These shy elusive creatures are fantastic for your garden, hoovering up a host of pests that are after your flowering shrubs and prize vegetables!

    So this Halloween, take a second to think about these poor underappreciated animals just going about their daily lives and show a bit of love for these less popular yet equally important creatures that we are lucky to have in the UK.

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