6 Ghostly Animals Just in Time for Halloween

From an Aussie deep-sea shark to a dancing moth, some wild animals have earned a spooky reputation.

It's nearly Halloween, the time of year when no one could blame you for believing in ghosts. These otherworldly spirits bring to mind elusive shapes, pale colors, and strange sounds.

And some wild animals with these very same traits have an equally spooky reputation.

LEMURS

For instance, lemurs of Madagascar make haunting territorial calls that once reminded people of "ghosts or spirits living in the forest,” says Chelsea Feast, lemur expert for the Tennessee Aquarium. The word “lemur” comes from the Latin word for ghost. 

Black and white ruffed and red ruffed lemurs, both critically endangered, make calls that “almost sound demonic,” Feast says.

The black-and-white ruffed lemur (bottom) and the red ruffed lemur are known for making haunting sounds that carry long distances in the forests of Madagascar.

PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MARENT, MINDEN PICTURES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Another ghoulish trait is in their eyes. A special film on a lemur’s eyes called the tapetum reflects light and thus glows, like a cat’s eyes. Some have very orange—and some would say eerie—reflections, Feast says.

AYE-AYES

So does the endangered aye-aye, a large, nocturnal lemur with a witch-like middle finger that the animal uses to find insects.

“It was considered a bad omen if you saw an aye aye,” and at one time people killed them on sight, she adds.

GHOST SHARKS

Like Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue,” ghost sharks don’t quite match the label they’ve been given, says George Burgess, an ichthyologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

That's because the 50 known species of ghost sharks aren’t sharks.

The Australian ghost shark has an elephant-like snout that detects prey on the ocean floor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY NORBERT WU, MINDEN PICTURES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

They’re chimeras, a type of fish that branched off from sharks about 400 million years ago. 

The deep-dwelling creatures look more like Frankenstein’s monster than ghosts, with sensory organs dotting their skin like stitches. (The male's forehead also sports a retractable sex organ, a clasper to help him hold onto that lucky Bride of Frankenshark.)

GHOST SHARK CAUGHT ON CAMERA FOR THE FIRST TIME WATCH: The pointy-nosed blue chimaera, a species of "ghost shark," was captured on camera for the first time in 2009. Video courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

GHOST MOTHS

Male ghost moths or ghost swifts “do a funky little dance” to attract the ladies.

The insects "appear out of nowhere, popping up from the ground like meerkats, going back and forth and then going back down,” Burgess says.

“They very much imitate our impression of how ghosts appear and disappear,” Burgess says. Not to mention Hepialus humuli humuli males' white color makes their name spot on.

GHOST SNAKES

The recently discovered species Madagascarophis lolo was very tough to find.

PHOTOGRAPH BY SARA RUANE

Meanwhile, back in Madagascar, scientists recently discovered a pale gray snake and named it Madagascarophis lolo, the latter of which is Malagasy for “ghost.”

The reptile, called luu-luu, had evaded detection for a long time—hence its name.

Halloween bonus: luu-luu is part of a group called cat-eyed snakes, named for their feline-like pupils.

The ghost snake is a type of cat-eyed snake, known for their feline-like pupils.

PHOTOGRAPH BY SARA RUANE

GHOST FROGS

All seven species of ghost frog live in South Africa, but these little amphibians lack a ghastly pallor.

Instead, they’re regular froggy green and likely get their moniker from the Skeleton Gorge area of Cape Town's Table Mountain, home to one critically endangered species.

Skeleton Gorge has fast-moving streams and rivers, and ghost frogs “have really big suction cups so they can hold on to rocks,” says Burgess. Tadpoles even have sucker-like mouths to withstand rapid currents.

Maybe instead of ghosts, they should be called cling-ons.

Lead Image: An aye-aye clings to a palm in eastern Madagascar. It was once considered a bad omen to see an aye-aye.

PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MARENT, MINDEN PICTURES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

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