Spooky Science Species

Happy Halloween! This creepy creature is an ant infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which means it might as well be the “walking dead.” This diabolical fungus produces a toxin that assumes control of the ant’s brain, compelling it to abandon its activities and wander off its trail to bite the underside of another fungus leaf. Once the so-called “zombie ant” attaches itself to this leaf, it promptly dies, and  a stalk structure sprouts from its head to disperse fungal spores that attach to other ants—and restart the zombie life cycle. 

This is the goblin spider, named for its unusual appearance and secretive habits. While this arachnid may look fearsome in this photograph, goblin spiders are actually tiny—a large one might be a tenth of an inch long. This image was taken with a scanning electron microscope, revealing the minute details of the goblin spider’s anatomy. Goblins are among the most poorly known spider groups, but over the past few years, scientists at the American Museum of Natural History have helped lead a global inventory that added hundreds of new species to the group. Learn more in Spiders Alive!

This spooky cephalopod, the vampire squid, lives at depths sunlight never reaches, 2,000 to 4,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Their two fins flap like wings to propel them through the water while their large eyes—the largest, relative to body size, of any known animal—help them detect the dim light generated by bioluminescent organisms and navigate their dark environment. When a predator threatens, a vampire squid thrashes around, waving its bioluminescent arm tips and ejecting luminescent mucus to confuse its attacker—giving the squid an opportunity to swim away. Learn more in Opulent Oceans.