OCTOBER
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

10-25-90

Creepy Crawlies

All Hallows' Eve is approaching and soon the celebration of Halloween will begin. According to tradition, all sorts of ghosts, goblins and ghoulish creatures creep and crawl from their dark, dank domiciles on the night of Oct. 31 to terrorize the earth's human inhabitants.

Of the horrifying creatures that run rampant on All Hallows' Eve, some are grotesque human figures and some are animals including bats, snakes, spiders and even an insect or two.

It's not surprising that insects and spiders are part of the ghastly crew relegated by generations of humanity to a starring role on Halloween.  Spiders as a group have earned their spot by being somewhat reclusive and stringing their webs in every nook and cranny.  Of course the food habits of spiders and the presence of poison fangs in some adds to the macabre atmosphere. The Black Widow spider may even be considered the queen of Halloween trick or treaters.  She has earned her haunting title because of her murderous behavior

Mating in predatory insects and spiders is a dangerous and somewhat deadly game.  In these arthropods, the male sometimes becomes a meal for his mate.  The Black Widow spiders, the small male tries to sneak away from his mate but is not often successful.  Hence, she becomes the Black Widow.

Moths have been associated with Halloween scenes.  These night-flying insects are attracted to lights.  No doubt the presence of moths dancing around a candle flame during a spiritual event, such as a funeral wake, has contributed to a mystical view of the insect.  In the Middle Ages and earlier, the moth was considered to be a spirit, a human soul.

One moth is appropriately named for a role in Halloween celebrations.  It is called the Death's Head Moth (one of the largest moths found in Europe), because it has wing markings in the shape of a skull and crossbones.  In the poem “Haunted House,” Thomas Hood makes use of this insect in a refrain suitable for any Halloween celebration:

“The air was thick, and in the upper room
The bat-or something in its shape-was winging;
And on the wall, as chilly as a tomb
The death's head moth was clinging.”
It's not surprising that spiders and insects are used to spice up many

Halloween celebrations.  After all, some people consider these arthropods the chief of the world's creepy crawlies.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Elaine Lambert