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It’s Halloween: Unmask the Creatures Who Spook You

They may seem creepy, they may be crawly, and may even stink, but...

  • Please don't jump to conclusions. iStockphoto.com

  • I'm far more scared of you than you are of me. iStockphoto.com

  • I don't really want to suck your blood. iStockphoto.com

  • Pay attention: I'll give you plenty of warning before spraying. iStockphoto.com

  • Looks can be deceiving. iStockphoto.com

by Debra Firmani

What's lurking in your backyard that gives you the creeps? Spiders? Snakes? Bats? A wandering skunk or opossum?

Take some time to check them out, and the fear factor will fade.

Jumpy around spiders?
Snakes? S’no problem
Don’t be driven batty
Skunks: It’s not all black & white
Decoding the opossum’s toothy snarl


Jumpy around spiders?

Eight legs are enough to make spiders alarming to lots of us, so when those legs are used to jump, that just seems unnecessary.

But consider the reason for the leaping: It’s mainly something a male does if a female he's courting approaches him too rapidly. (Can’t blame a guy for that!)

If you find a jumping spider in your home—probably on your windowsill, looking for bugs--and don’t want him as a roommate, gently transport him outside via a cup and cardboard cover. Not if in a cold season, though, or he’ll die. In winter, consider offering him shelter in a basement corner in exchange for the work he’ll do down there eating insects.

Snakes? S’no problem

If you’re too far north, you may have trouble scaring up a garter snake this time of year—they hide out from cold temperatures. But if you’re lucky, you can find one hunting toads, salamanders, earthworms, frogs, and fish.

Garter snakes are usually docile. Their methods of self defense are to flatten their bodies and maybe discharge a stink bomb from glands at the base of the tail. To protect herself, a frightened garter snake may even bite.

So step back slowly, and trust us: This small hunter is far more afraid of you than you are of her.

>> Got a snake in the house? This is what to do

Don’t be driven batty

Does it seem like the local bats are more active than usual as the Autumn sun goes down? They’re not plotting to suck your blood--only three species in Latin America have any interest. They’re much more interested in feeding on insects to build up fat stores that will help them survive their winter hibernation. So consider taking a minute to thank them for the free insect-removal service.

And don’t be fooled by stories of bats chewing and prying to roost in attics—bats only find their way into spaces that already have entrances. That’s a good reason to check your attic regularly for even the smallest holes and go outside to enjoy bats.

>> Suspect you've got bats in your attic? Here's what you need to know.

Skunks: It’s not all black & white

If you were a half-blind, slow, gentle animal, you’d want a potent defense too. And skunks try to warn you: Before spraying, a skunk first stamps her front feet, raises her bushy tail, hisses, and makes short forward charges. These warnings are meant to send a clear message: retreat.

If you don’t, you’re not going to come out smelling like a rose. So keep your distance and remind yourself that in exchange for a little distance, your neighborhood skunk is keeping down the populations of insects and rodents that many people view as pests.

>> Did your dog get a little too close to Pepé Le Pew? We have the deodorizing formula.

Decoding the opossum’s toothy snarl

The opossum is another critter who makes a feast of insects in the Fall to get ready for winter. Startle one in your yard, and you may be on the receiving end of a snarl full of pointy teeth. Opossums have the same number of teeth as the T-rex—more, in fact, than any other North American mammal. But that snarl is truly a bluff, made by a gentle animal who wants only a safe escape.

Instead of making good on the threat, an opossum’s last resort is to “play ‘possum,” feigning death, sometimes for up to two hours. The frightened opossum falls over on his side and goes into a state of catatonia. His mouth hangs open, drooling profusely. From the other end oozes a foul-smelling greenish goo.

If you don’t want to put yourself and the opossum through such a horror show, just give him some space as he rids your yard of unwanted insects.

>> Having problems with opossums?

Debra Firmani is a writer and long-time advocate for animals and nature. Her articles on wildlife, wild lands, backyard habitat creation, and nature education have appeared in print and online. 

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