Read on…if you dare…to learn fascinating facts about the world’s spookiest creatures!




Only in your darkest nightmares is your mind taken over by a sinister being that compels you to do its evil bidding. That’s the real-life nightmare of many ants but it’s true and I’ve seen it myself and lived to tell the tale!
Deep in the world’s tropical rainforests lives a fungus that uses the most malevolent way to reproduce.
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, is the fungus’s name and deceit is its game. It employs ants to help spread its reproductive spores by taking over the mind and body of these helpless insects.
“How?” you may ask. Ants unwittingly pick up fungal spores from the rainforest floor, then the spores germinate and invade the ant’s body and hijack its mind.
The fungus compels the ant to begin a long journey to climb up a stem or trunk without knowing why. When it has reached the perfect height (according to the evil whims of the fungus) the ant’s jaws lock onto a leaf in a death grip which prevents the ant from falling as it dies while the fungus continues to take over its body.
When the fungus is ready to reproduce, its fruiting bodies grow from the ant’s head and rupture, releasing the spores into the air and thus completing the fungal life cycle.
Why would the fungus use this unusual way to reproduce? Well, if you’ve ever hiked through a rainforest, there isn’t much wind and without wind, the fungus can’t spread its reproductive spores very far.
So, it employs the ant to bring its spores up into the rainforest canopy where the tropical breezes can blow them far and wide.
Entire ant colonies can be decimated by these zombie fungi, especially during the rainy seasons when the fungi grow best, creating an extensive ant graveyard on the forest floor.
These zombie fungi are widely distributed, not only in the world’s tropical forests but also in temperate forests from the southern United States to Japan!
One species was actually first discovered in 1859 by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who is best known for his research on evolution, prompting his rival Charles Darwin to finally publish his ground-breaking book, On the Origin of Species.
I’ve been an eyewitness to the actions of these zombie fungi while hiking in the upper Amazon River Basin of Peru, where I also spied other oddities of nature such as trees that walk, caterpillars that sting, sticks that fly, frogs that wave, and purple beetles the size of golf balls!
I’ll save those tales for another spooky story!



Imagine coming face to face with this dragon-like creature!

Named for its frightful appearance, the Frilled Lizard can produce a startling display when it boldly raises the bright orange and red cape of skin encircling its neck.

This behavior functions as both a territorial defense as well as to frighten would-be predators and to impress potential mates during courtship.

These lizards, affectionately called ‘Frillies’ by admiring ‘Aussies’, is endemic to northern Australia, where it makes its home in tropical savannah woodlands.

Despite its spooky stance, this frilled ‘dragon’ only erects its fanciful frill when alarmed or threatened by predators. The neck frill is a thin but extensible fold of skin which when fully erected can measure nearly 12 inches across!  This unique lizard inhabits the semi-arid grassy woodlands and dry sclerophyll forests of northern Australia and southern New Guinea. If faced with danger, it erects its fearsome frill by opening its brightly colored mouth while hissing, leaping, and sometimes chasing its aggressor.

At nearly 3 feet long, the Frilled Lizard seems threatening, but it prefers dining on cicadas, caterpillars, and beetles over human flesh!


The golden silk orb-weaver is a rather striking arachnid with its large size, bright colors, and furry legs. It spins an enormous sticky, golden web where it waits right in the middle, facing downward, ready to seize its prey of flying insects, small beetles, and even dragonflies.

Their webs are so large and strong that I once saw a giant tropical hummingbird get captured in its grip while traveling in Honduras where I shot this photo!


Introducing Rafflesia; a rare tropical plant that bears the world’s largest flowers, up to 3 feet wide!
They’re also called ‘corpse flowers’ because they mimic rotting carcasses in their scent, color, and texture to attract carrion flies, their main pollinators.

They include about 36 species occurring in deep, dark rainforests such as on the island of Borneo, where I spied this specimen.


The Cassowaries of Australia and New Guinea are certainly spooky-looking birds, and indeed are dangerous if provoked, being capable of inflicting fatal wounds with their strong legs and 5-inch long dagger-like middle claws. In fact, they’ve often been called “the world’s most dangerous bird”. And no wonder; they get to be six feet tall and 130 pounds!

Despite their reputation, they are important keystone species as fruit-eating birds that help distribute seeds of native plants throughout the rainforests they inhabit.


It’s easy to find scorpions in the dark with the aid of a UV flashlight because they glow when this type of light is shown upon them, like this one I spotted in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest.

All scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet light, such as an electric black light or even natural moonlight. The blue-green glow comes from a substance found in the hyaline layer, a very thin but super tough coating in a part of the scorpion’s exoskeleton called the cuticle.


The Tiger Leech is named after the characteristic longitudinal stripes of its namesake mammal. I ran into this one in the lowland jungles of Borneo and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it has a painful bite and was not easily removed from my skin as it bore tenacious suckers on both ends of its inch-long body!
Amazingly, there are nearly 700 species of leeches, most of which reside in freshwater while some live on land or in the sea.
Like earthworms, who they are closely related to, they are hermaphrodites, having both male and female sex organs so finding a potential mate is twice as easy!
The world’s most famous species is the Medicinal Leech, which was used in antiquity for ‘bloodletting’ of patients back when ancient physicians believed one could have an imbalance of blood in the body.


The aptly named Corpse Flower does indeed resemble a dead animal, both in scent and sight. The deathly stench emanates from the central spadix which heats to 98 degrees to help disseminate the strong odor.
This attracts their favorite pollinators like carrion beetles and flesh flies who are fooled by both the scent and rotting flesh coloration of the leaf-like spathe that surrounds the spadix.
Analyses of chemicals released by the spadix show the stench includes the same chemicals as are found in Limburger cheese, garlic, rotting fish, sweaty socks, and feces.
This species is also known as the Titan Arum thanks to its massive ‘flower’. Indeed, it boasts the world’s record for the largest unbranched inflorescence in the plant kingdom which can reach over TEN FEET tall!
Why would a species like the Corpse Flower go to such grandiose and odiferous lengths to attract pollinators? Some scientists believe it’s because the plants need to send out a giant calling card because they are so rare in their native forests and bloom so infrequently.
The Corpse Flower or Titan Arum grows naturally only in the rainforests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Tragically, this unique species is threatened with extinction, though luckily it is cultivated in botanical gardens around the world to the delight of intrigued gawkers.
These plants only bloom once every few years so when they do it’s a big event that draws onlookers from around the world. The plants’ caretakers surely have a sense of humor since they’ve invented creative names for their blooming monstrosities including Wee Stinky, Pepe le Pew, Morticia, Rotty Top, and Uncle Fester!


The fearsome-looking Gila Monster is the world’s only venomous lizard!

According to Animal Planet’s Coyote Peterson, the Gila Monster’s bite is “like hot lava coursing through your veins” and is generally regarded as the most painful venom produced by any vertebrate! Its venom is produced in modified salivary glands of the lower jaw and is said to be about as toxic as that of a rattlesnake.

It inhabits the American southwest, including the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Great Basin deserts, where it spends most of its time sheltering in underground burrows.
Although venomous, they are shy and very rare so it’s unlikely you’ll ever run into one in the wild. In fact, habitat destruction has led to them being listed as threatened and they’ve even been named by Utah as their State Reptile!


The Golden Poison Arrow Frog is the most toxic land animal in the world – it has enough venom to kill 10 adult men! This species was used by the Choco people of Colombia to coat the tips of the blow darts they used for hunting.

A single golden poison frog can supply enough poison for 30 to 50 darts, and the dart’s poison remains active for up to a year.

Researchers have found this frog’s toxins to be 200 times more potent than morphine and could potentially be used in medicine.

This frog, along with several other species of dart frogs, inhabits the Amazonian rainforest along the Pacific coast of Colombia.

Although they look menacing, sporting bright yellow and black warning colors, they are actually only about as large as one’s thumbnail!

Interestingly, many of the 187+ species of dart frogs are popular pets because of their stunning coloration and the fact that their skin loses its toxicity in the absence of the wild prey that are the original source of this deadly toxin!


Though they may look frightening, beetles have more to fear from you than you of them. Over 300 species are eaten by humans, including this Rhinoceros Beetle, for their large, protein-rich larvae which are considered as culinary delicacies.

The beetle order of insects is the largest and most diverse of all, comprising over 400,000 species, whose members can be found in nearly all the world’s habitats.

They include such familiar insects as ladybugs, mealworms, weevils, flower chafers, scarabs, and aquatic whirligig beetles.
Even fireflies are beetles!


The MARABOU STORK is an imposing-looking African bird weighing up to 20 pounds with a wingspan spreading up to 12 feet!

Also known as the Undertaker Bird due to its shape from behind, it has cloak-like wings and back, skinny white legs, and sometimes a large mass of “hair” on its crown.
Besides its intimidating massive dagger-like bill and charred-looking bare head, it sports a large naked throat pouch with which it produces guttural croaking sounds as part of its courtship ritual.

It often accompanies equally spooky-looking vultures, from whom it steals scraps of dismembered carcasses. Like vultures, it is a scavenger with a naked head and long neck that keeps the blood from its carrion prey from accumulating on its body!

This widespread species of stork inhabits grasslands of central and east Africa.


Here are two classically spooky creatures you wouldn’t want to be sharing a swimming hole with!
Caimans are a group of reptiles of Central and South American wetlands and rivers including the Amazon.

Like their close relative, the American Alligator, Caimans have more rounded snouts and their teeth are less visible than the more distantly related crocodiles.
Caimans eat aquatic animals and fish, like this equally ferocious-looking piranha, but won’t turn away a nice, fat Capybara if given the chance.

Like Caimans, piranhas have a more fearsome reputation than they probably deserve. Though stories abound of schooling piranhas quickly skeletonizing human prey, few fatalities have ever been reported.

Piranhas are omnivores, eating everything from fruits and aquatic invertebrates to other fish and smaller mammals.

Caimans, like piranhas, generally have more to fear from humans than we do of them, since both and hunted extensively by man and whose aquatic habitats are threatened by pollution, development and logging of their rainforest habitats.

Caimans are in the alligator family, thus closely related to the American Alligator and more distantly related to crocodiles and gharials.

Due to the large size and ferocious nature of the caimans, they have few natural predators within their environments. Humans are the main predators of the caimans as they have been hunted for their meat and skin.


The aptly named Fanged Pitcher-Plant bears canine-like appendages dripping with nectar that serve to attract its insect prey.

It is among the largest of all carnivorous plants, with pitchers over a foot long. It lives in the dark, dank peat swamps of Borneo where it feeds on ants, though some early explorers believed it fed on rats and monkeys because these would purportedly be found, drowned inside their pitchers!


Hollywood movie directors would be hard-pressed to invent an animal as spooky looking as today’s featured creature to star in their horror film!

Tardigrades are microscopic critters, no larger than a pinhead, and are ubiquitous on our planet.Affectionately known as ‘water bears’ and ‘moss piglets’, there are over 1200 species with new ones being discovered annually!

They’re also known as ‘extremophiles’ because they live in the world’s harshest habitats from boiling fumaroles to deep-sea trenches but are also found in any moist environment from tropical rainforests to polar ice caps.

Thankfully, they aren’t considered household pests because they’d be harder to eradicate than cockroaches or rodents since they are nearly indestructible.

They can withstand temperatures ranging from absolute zero to boiling, can go years without eating, can survive the radiation of outer space, and can survive decades in a death-like state of cryptobiosis.


A harmless coral reef or…a deadly sea creature? You decide…at your peril!

The Reef Stonefish is widely considered to be the world’s most venomous fish. It inhabits shallow reefs in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, where this animal’s perfect camouflage hides it from both predators and prey.

It dines on small fish and crustaceans by resting motionless among the similarly colored and textured reef, engulfing its meal in one gulp with lightning speed.
The Stonefish’s back is covered in sharp, stiff, spines that deliver their venom with instant results including severe pain, shock, paralysis, and even death for unlucky humans that touch or step on them.

So when you’re snorkeling in tropical waters take heed of my mantra; “don’t touch ANYTHING” because you never know if a harmless-looking plant or animal is actually a deadly foe!

Despite bearing the world’s most potent neurotoxin, the Stonefish is not offered complete protection for they are captured by humans for both their tasty flesh and for the aquarium trade.

Stonefish are related to the equally fearsome, camouflaged, and aptly-named toadfish, frogfish, scorpionfish, firefish, dragonfish, stingfish, and lionfish.
There are more venomous fish, over 1200 species than all other venomous vertebrates combined, including reptiles!


If you own a dog, you’ll understand how Dog Vomit Slime Mold got its name.

This yellow mold grows on a variety of decaying plant materials, breaking down nutrients and returning them to the soil.


The HIPPOPOTAMUS has a well-deserved reputation as the world’s most dangerous land mammal, including in Africa where elephants, rhinos, lions, and leopards roam.

Hippos possess giant canines and incisors that self-sharpen as they feed. Their jaws support strong muscles that enable a bite force of over 8,100 newtons (take my word for it; that a lot!)

Their mouth has an impossibly wide gape that can open nearly 180 degrees. Surprisingly, this well-developed mouth wasn’t evolved to bite and kill for food but is used in combat with other hippos for territory and mating rights.

In fact, hippos are vegetarians, spending their nights grazing in meadows, returning at dawn to spend the hot days wallowing in refreshing waters of rivers, lakes, and swamps.Like elephants, they enjoy spending time in the buoyant water which helps support their massive size, which can be over 4,000 pounds for the larger species, while the Pygmy Hippo species weighs in at just a quarter of that.Their name comes from the ancient Greeks meaning ‘river horse’.

Oddly, the hippo’s closest relatives aren’t horses, pigs, elephants, or other similar-looking ungulates, but whales!

Now, that’s a spooky fact!


The insectivorous Venus Flytrap served as the main inspiration for the American horror comedy musical film, Little Shop of Horrors.
This rare plant is endangered and only occurs naturally in a small area of coastal wetlands in North and South Carolina.

It prefers to dine upon ants and spiders over the heartburn-inducing house flies that it is usually depicted as devouring.
Perhaps you kept a Venus Flytrap as a kid and probably killed it by teasing it too often since the trap door like leaves can only close about three times before dying.

These plants are actually quite easy to care for; I’ve had a pair that I named Seymour and Audrey for several years now.

Thankfully, the plants available at your local garden store have been raised by tissue culture methods and thus don’t threaten the native populations left in the wild.



Blue-ringed Octopusus looks harmless enough, but their boldly patterned warning colors tell a different story. In fact, they are one of the world’s most venomous marine animals, containing enough tetrodotoxin to kill 26 humans within minutes. In fact, their venom is 1,000 times more powerful than cyanide! Tetrodotoxin is the same potent neurotoxin found in pufferfishes.

There are four species of Blue-ringed Octopuses found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans from Japan to Australia. They inhabit soft, sandy bottoms of tide pools and coral reefs, often hiding in crevices or empty seashells.

Thankfully, they aren’t aggressive, generally saving their venom to immobilize and kill their preferred prey of small crustaceans rather than hapless snorkelers.




Vultures may be considered gruesomely ugly by most, but they play vital roles in their habitats. They are truly the garbage men and recycling team of nature.

They help prevent diseases from being spread by the remains of dead animals by stripping the carcasses quickly and efficiently.
It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it!

Most of the world’s vultures are not as strikingly colored as the King Vulture of Central America.

According to Mayan legend, this species was a king of sorts, carrying messages between humans and the Gods.

Is this a face only a mother could love? You decide!


The BULLET ANT has the most feared bite in the insect kingdom.

In fact, this species ranks #1 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index because those who’ve been unlucky enough to get bitten by one of these inch-long ants describes the pain as “waves and crescendos of burning pain, tsunamis of pain, throbbing pain, excruciating pain.”And yes…pain as intense as if you’d been shot by a bullet!

Bullet Ants inhabit the lowland rainforests of Central America and I’ve been fortunate to see them with my own eyes in the lowland rainforests of both Honduras and Costa Rica.


The VAMPIRE BAT surely reminds one of Dracula, with its razor-sharp teeth, beady eyes, and pointy ears.

The bat deftly locates its victims with its ability to sense the warmth and breathing of its mammalian prey.

Once bitten, the prey’s blood flows freely thanks to anticoagulants in the bat’s saliva.

The warm blood is quickly lapped up by the bat’s tongue, aided by a cleft in its chin and grooves in its mouth.


Stick Insects protect themselves from predators in a variety of fascinating ways depending on the species.

These include spraying offensive compounds that sting and burn the eyes and mouths of would-be predators, releasing blood from their joints, producing pungent odors, startling with flashes of bright colors, or by violently waving their appendages.

Others, like this one, also known as a walking stick or spiny leaf insect, exhibit extreme camouflage, blending in perfectly with their leafy forest habitat.
When that doesn’t work, they can always simply release their grip on a branch and drop out of sight of the offending observer (like me!)



Spider web silk may appear delicate, but that is just part of the spider’s deception. Spider web silk is actually incredibly strong, especially that of the Darwin’s bark spider, whose silk is thought to be the strongest of any spider and is an impressive 10 times stronger than Kevlar!

Amazingly, spiders manufacture multiple types of silk that are used for a variety of purposes besides simply making their webs, including silk for entombing their prey and silk for making a cocoon to protect their developing eggs.

They even make several types of silk used in building their webs including both sticky and non-sticky types and silk used for the web’s scaffolding and for its spokes and outer rim.

So, I hope that next time you see a spider web, you won’t mindlessly wipe it away with your witch’s broom but stop to admire its delicate intricacy!


The Shoebill doesn’t mean to alarm you with such a devilish grin!

Nevertheless, it certainly cuts an imposing silhouette with its 8-foot wingspan and standing over four feet tall!

Named after its huge, clog-like schnozz, the Shoebill deftly hunts fish, frogs, snakes, and even young water monitors and crocodiles while wading among papyrus, reeds, and cattails in its swampy home in wetlands of tropical east Africa.

Despite being classically ‘ugly’, the Shoebill is highly sought-after by birdwatchers, not only for its unique appearance, but also its rarity. Populations of this unique species are declining, down to perhaps only 5,000 individuals, due to habitat destruction and collection by the avicultural trade.




Aptly named Ghost Mushrooms produce a greenish glow illuminating their nocturnal forest habitat.

There are more than 80 species of fungi with bioluminescent properties and they occur worldwide, from the Jack-o’-lantern mushroom of North America to this specimen growing in Australia.

Many are presumed poisonous, and if ingested can cause severe cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. So, if you happen upon one of these deadly beauties while out trick-or-treating, best to leave it be!


If you’ve enjoyed reading about spooky flora and fauna around the world, check out Christine’s online workshops!