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True Halloween Story: Fright-Night Creatures Not So Spooky After All

Ghost frogs, vampire bats, spindly spiders, mountains of maggots, leaping toads and spooky owls are ingredients in every witch's favorite recipe. But don't let the Halloween myths behind these creepy creatures haunt your sleep because these animals are beneficial to humans and the environment.

Eek! I've seen a Ghost Frog!
With a name like ghost frog, you would think it would don a sheet, or perhaps leap out at trick-or-treaters in the middle of the night, but this species gets its name because it's so rarely seen. Limited to a tiny range in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, a long escarpment of moist land surrounded by mostly dry grasslands, the frogs eek out a living by hiding under rocks and crevasses. If you run into one, don't eat it, lest you turn into a ghost. The frogs' skin contains poisons that keep many predators away.

The buzz on bats
You've all heard tales of terror about the vampire bat: it soars; it swoops; and bites the necks of people in dimly lit cobblestone streets. Not true. There is no proof of fatal bat attacks on humans. Yes, vampire bats do live on a diet exclusively of blood, but they almost always opt for other animals besides humans. Cattle are a frequent target of theirs and they usually only extract a tablespoon or less of blood at a time, making very small cuts.

Vampire bats have three active ingredients in their saliva to keep their prey's blood flowing. The first is an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from congealing. The second is a chemical that keeps red blood cells from sticking together. The third inhibits the constriction of veins under the wound. Some of these naturally occurring chemicals are now being used to develop medication for heart and stroke patients.

The truth about tarantulas
Tarantulas are known for their creepy fur-covered bodies and venomous fangs. But contrary to most Hollywood spider horror flicks, tarantula venom is not poisonous to humans. In fact, if most people knew what tarantulas eat - human pests like mice, crickets, moths and flies - they may change their opinions of them.

Mad for maggots
The site of maggots churns stomachs because they love to go where few of us dare to stray: dead and rotting meat. But maggots are enormously beneficial to the Earth. They are decomposing machines, breaking down rotting biomass and returning nutrients to the soil. If maggots didn't do that, who would?

The dirt on toads
Toads aren't only popular for their legs and eyeballs. They are incredibly sensitive to habitat changes and are excellent indicators of the health of an environment. When foreign chemicals are added to an ecosystem, toads are some of the first animals to suffer, so scientists study them for clues to environmental change. Toads are also efficient pest controllers and a great alternative to using pesticides in the garden. They eat insects, slugs and snails.

Observations on owls
Just because owls can rotate their heads 270 degrees and fly silently after dark doesn't mean they are up to mischief. As nocturnal animals and predators, owls go after many animals humans try to keep under control, like rodents and even large insects.