Heading off to any haunting Halloween parties? Fear not! Should you find yourself feeling awkward and tongue-tied, hovering around the black magic punch cauldron while desperately grasping for terrifying Halloween trivia to captivate your creepy friends, then what follows is plenty of ghastly small-talk fodder sure to spellbind the other ghoulish guests. Here’s a collection of strange but true cocktail party trivia.
Have a howlingly happy Halloween!
Answer: Vampire squid — scientific name, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, translates to “Vampire Squid From Hell.” This creature has some remarkable predator avoidance abilities — both a visually disorienting photophore lighting system, making it difficult to tell one end of the vampire squid from the other, and a mucus cloud it ejects containing thousands of glowing spheres of blue bioluminescent light. When the light show ends, the squid disappears, and it’s difficult to tell if the black vampire squid has flown away in the dark (and if so, in which direction), or whether it has merely faded into the lightless waters where it lives.
Question: What spineless primitive creature has a tongue with two pairs of rasps that it uses to first snag and then tear the flesh from the carcasses of their victims as they devour their prey from the inside out? With their very slow metabolisms, after eating they may not need to feed again for up to seven months. This deep-sea creature lacks jaws, true eyes or stomach and lives in muddy sea floors. It overwhelms any prospective predators by exuding massive amounts of sticky, yucky slime. Despite these disgusting character traits, the skin of these creatures is often used to make expensive boots, bags, wallets and purses.
Answer: Pacific hagfish, or, as they’re more commonly known, slime eels.
Question: What hairy creatures thrive by the dark of night and have so many cousins that almost one-quarter of all the world’s more than 4,000 species of mammals are relatives? Worldwide, they are the most important natural predators to some of our most annoying night-flying enemies. They strike fear in many because of nasty reputations that have endured through the ages because of unfortunate misconceptions and myths.
Question: What spooky fishing bait lives its life in complex tubular branching burrows in muddy and sandy sediments?
Answer: Ghost shrimp.
Question: What hairy creature consumes its prey first by injecting it with a caustic mix of digestive enzymes and then, through stomach muscle contractions and a narrow strawlike mouth, generates a powerful sucking action that pulls the now liquefied vital organs from its helpless prey?
Answer: Tarantula spider.
Question: What dark brown spongy intertidal California seaweed dangles from the tops and sides of rocks, and was at one time used as packing material for shipping live marine invertebrates?
Answer: Dead man’s fingers. Its spotted, elongated, cylindrical branches resemble withered and callused fingers.
Question: What animal launches into a “broken wing” charade, dragging itself off with one wing twisted against its back to lure predators away from their young?
Answer: Killdeer, the most widespread of all California shorebirds.
Question: What animal flaps its large, flat appendages when swimming and eats by beating them on the seabed to unearth worms and clams that they then munch with their strong, flat teeth adapted for crunching hard-shelled clams?
Answer: Bat rays.
Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Her DFG-related question-and-answer column appears weekly at www.dfg.ca.gov/QandA/. She can be reached at [email protected]