Spooky Critters

| September 29, 2013

As autumn approaches we generally begin to experience cooler temperatures, shorter days and often the beauty of nature’s fall colors. Farmers begin harvesting crops and even animals in cold climates start gathering food for the long winter months.

People of different cultures around the world celebrate this season with rites, festivals and celebrations of the change from summer to winter, and other significant events. The Mayans celebrate a festival known as Hanal Pixan, which spans three days beginning on October 31st. Here in the United States, stores, shopping malls and neighborhoods decorate for these celebrations with everything from Harvest-themed wreaths to yards decked out with scary images of all kinds.

All of these celebrations stem from ancient beliefs, and many of the celebrations, much like our Halloween, include tasty treats. In addition to trick or treating, often animals or scary depictions of them play a prominent role in the culture of Halloween. Why are we so fascinated with creepy crawling things, or things that go bump in the night? Humans seem to have always had a fascination, possibly stemming from fear, of things we don’t know much about, or don’t understand. Of course, it is that same fascination that has driven people to research and learn about these elusive creatures.

At The Dallas World Aquarium, we have our fair share of creepy crawly things found not only in our terrestrial habitats, but even underwater! Here’s a light hearted look at some of our Spooky specimens:

In the Orinoco rainforest visitors encounter Poison dart frogs, and Snakes such as the Emerald tree boa and Anaconda (a frequently feared predator that reaches 30 feet in length); as well as Spiders such as the Goliath bird-eating spider that can reach the size of a dinner plate. In the far reaches of the rainforest exhibit are the distant calls of the Red howler monkeys reminding everyone of their ever watchful eyes over their territory. Quite possibly the scariest creature of all, is the Vampire bat whose legendary habit of feasting on the blood of warm blooded animals, strikes fear in even the most adventurous of souls. A little known fact about these mammalian parasites is that their saliva, known as vampirin is a strong anticoagulant that can actually be used to save heart attack and stroke victims.

The lower level of the Mundo Maya exhibit, representing the Mayan underworld is filled with deadly beauties such as scorpions, sharks, stingrays, sawfish and venomous snakes and lizards (such as the Fer de lance, Palm viper, Neotropical rattlesnake and Beaded lizard). Ever-vigilant screech owls, burrowing owls and barred owls follow guests with their eyes as they venture along the winding path.

Once visitors reach the upper level of Mundo Maya, they are greeted by one of the Jaguars whose ability to silently stalk its prey has no doubt created countless nightmares. The fact that the Jaguar, once revered by the Mayan people and now extinct in its once native Texas and endangered in all parts of its natural range, should however, be the cause of greater concern in today’s culture.

The Aquarium gallery is also home to a host of scary swimmers of all shapes and sizes, many of which are adapted with camouflage or specialized appendages that help them surprise or capture their prey. Giant Japanese spider crabs lurk in the Denizens of the Deep. Stinging Sea anemones, and Moon jellyfish stun prey with their tentacles, and glow-in-the dark Flashlight fish lure prey with their blinking patches of bioluminescent bacteria.

The Japan exhibit is home to a squirming group of Garden eels that disappear in the sand without a moment’s notice if startled.
Masters of camouflage are the Weedy, Leafy and Ribbon seadragons, the venomous Weedy scorpion fish and the Giant Pacific octopus, all of which can blend in with their surroundings and ambush their prey.

All kidding aside, our world is filled with an amazing array of incredible animals and our fear, fascination and reverence for them is part of our culture, past and present. This fall as you wander through the paths of The Dallas World Aquarium, take a second look at the things that frighten and fascinate you, and give a second thought to their importance, not only to our culture, but to our very survival – as their web is ours, and it is our responsibility to preserve and protect it.

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