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by Timothy Jackson, PWS

For those that are having last minute trouble deciding on a costume to wear, look no further than the Animal Kingdom for inspiration. Many Halloween-worthy creatures have been discovered across the globe, some as recently as 2011.

Eastern Pacific Black Ghostshark (Hydrolagus melanophasma)

Identified in 2009, the Eastern Pacific black ghost shark haunts deep offshore waters along the coasts of California and Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It is a member of the Chimaeridae fish family, which many believe is the oldest family of fish alive today. Similar to other male Chimaeridae species, the black ghost shark’s reproductive organs are located on its forehead. This tentaculum, a club-like sex organ, is specially adapted as a grasping organ used during mating.

Sloane Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)

Lurking deep beneath the ocean surface, the Sloane Viperfish is a scary, deep-sea creature. Living at depths of up to 3,280 feet, the viperfish uses bioluminescence to lure its prey. At these depths, food is scarce and even the smallest amount of light can be detected. The photophore, a specialized organ, emits light in dark water attracting food sources. Viperfish are thought to live up to approximately 40 years, but rarely live more than a few hours in captivity.

Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis)

With its hellish name and appearance, the vampire squid might seem like a horror of the deep seas. Quite the contrary, once thought to hunt for living prey, a recent study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered this cephalopod feeds on dead plankton, algae, fecal matter, goo, shells shed by tiny crustaceans, and other detritus (non-living organic particles). According to the MBARI, the squid “gather the food particles using two long, hair-lined filaments before wrapping the bits into meal-size mucus balls.”

Cyclops Shark, Dusky Shark, (Carcharhinus obscurus)

Discovered in Mexico in 2011, the albino cyclops shark was a 22-inch-long male fetus removed from a female dusky shark, legally caught near Cerralvo Island in the Gulf of California. Upon slicing open his catch, fisherman Enrique Lucero León found nine two-eyed normal embryos and a strange one-eyed sibling. With one eye centered on the shark’s forehead, the fetus had a congenital condition called cyclopia. Cyclops sharks have been found by other scientists, however, shark biologist, Jim Gelsleichter, said none have been found outside of the womb. 

Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda semifasciata)

The black-banded sea krait is a sea snake found in Fiji, southern Japan, and Singapore. Experts estimate that their lethal venom is ten times more toxic than a rattlesnake’s. Fortunately for humans, these serpents are gentle and attacks on people are quite rare. Kraits are nocturnal creatures and are most likely to be found in coral reefs. They are amphibious oxygen breathers and can spend up to ten days at a time on land to digest their food, mate, and lay eggs. However, while in the water, they must surface every six hours to get air.

Mata Mata (Chelus fimbriatus)

A mata mata is an aquatic turtle species that lives in the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America. These freshwater turtles prefer stagnant water, shallow enough to raise their head out to breathe. The mata mata is known to grow up to 33 pounds and despite their edgy appearance; they pose no threat to humans. On the contrary, humans pose a great threat to the mata mata as they are very sensitive to water quality and can be easily harmed by pollutants.

Zombie Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants, (Camponotus sp.), living high in the rain forest canopies of Brazil and Thailand have been found to be infected by a “mind-control” fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps. The fungus enters the ants through enzymatic activity and then attacks their nervous systems, causing them to exhibit strange behavior that actually helps the fungus reproduce. At first, the infected ants go about their lives as usual, occupying their nests, socializing with other ants, and feeding. Over time the fungus spreads until the ants start behaving as zombies. The fungus eventually kills the ant and continues to grow while it attaches to plant material. According to David Hughes, it takes approximately “three to nine days for the ants to become completely zombified after initial infection.” If you want to see the mind-controlling fungus in action, check out this YouTube video from BBC’s Planet Earth.

Although relatively little is known about these rare and spooky creatures, their discoveries remind us that the Animal Kingdom is full of unknown and strange creatures. We have a lot to learn…