This Halloween, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has dug up some of the spookiest, creepiest species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
The Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus) is one of three bat species that feed only on blood. Its reputation as the Dracula of the natural world and the fact that it very occasionally spreads rabies to cattle means that it has often been persecuted. However, only in exceptional circumstances does it bite humans and targeted control programmes mean that its role in the spread of disease to cattle can be limited. The Common Vampire Bat shows altruistic behaviour by sharing its food with other bats that fail to find a blood meal. Its saliva contains an anticoagulant which has been isolated and is now available for the treatment of blood clots in humans. Found in Central and South America, the Common Vampire Bat is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.
Watch how the Common Vampire Bat feeds in this video from ARKive, an IUCN Red List partner.
Lurking on the muddy floor of the Atlantic Ocean is another species you might not wish to meet on Halloween. The Atlantic Hagfish (Myxine glutinosa) feeds on dead or dying fish by boring into the body and consuming the internal organs and muscle. Although this may sound unpleasant, the Atlantic Hagfish has a very important role in cleaning the floor of the ocean and recycling nutrients that benefits the health of the ocean. It is listed as Least Concern on The IUCN Red List.
Although there are currently 65,518 species listed on The IUCN Red List, there are some groups of species which are underrepresented and waiting to be assessed. One such group is fungi. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitoid fungus that infects insects such as ants and turns them into zombies. Ants infected by this fungus alter their behavior and climb the stems of plants before biting deep into a stem and dying. Shortly after the death of the ant, fungus will grow from the ant’s head and rupture, releasing spores which can infect other ants. This fungus can be devastating to ant colonies but healthy ants are able to identify infected ants and carry them away from the colony to reduce the spread of infection.
See what happens when an ant is infected with Ophiocordyceps fungus in this BBC video narrated by David Attenborough.
Halloween is not complete without a ghostly character and one “ghost” on The IUCN Red List is the Table Mountain Ghost Frog (Heleophryne rosei), whose name was inspired by the ghostly atmosphere of Skeleton Gorge, South Africa, where this species was first found. The population of this Critically Endangered amphibian is thought to have declined by 50% between 1980 and 2000 and the spread of alien vegetation; fires; and water shortages are the main threats to this species. The Table Mountain Ghost Frog needs year round access to water for the development of tadpoles and both adults and tadpoles have adaptations suited to this life. Adults have highly webbed feet for swimming and tadpoles have large sucker like mouths to cling to rocks.
Although, there are many species which seem spooky, they all have an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and they can provide positive benefits to humans. Celebrate nature this Halloween and remember that many species are not as scary as they first appear!