What will you be dressing up as this Halloween? A cat? A bat? A giant wolf spider? For those of us who celebrate this unique holiday, creating our costume is more than half the fun and it got us thinking, where do our Halloween traditions stem from?
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, held at the end of October. This day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter. To celebrate, people would dress in animal costumes and tell each other’s fortunes. When the Roman Empire moved north from the Mediterranean Basin and conquered Celtic territory (including northwestern Spain, France, southern Germany, and up through the United Kingdom), they brought with them the festival of Pomona which honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, invoking the tradition of trick-or-treating.
This month, ARKive would like to highlight species from the European countries that inspired this spooky holiday, and perhaps offer up some great ideas for your Halloween costume!
Perhaps you would like to dominate the skies this Halloween night as a commanding bird of prey. The lammergeier, or bearded vulture, is a majestic bird with a wingspan commonly reaching over 2.5 meters. This skilled glider rarely needs to flap its wings in flight, and specializes in feeding on bones. They are known for their technique of picking up large bones and dropping them onto rocks in order to extract marrow out of the shattered pieces. Lammergeiers prefer high-altitude mountainous regions of southern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.
If underwater wonders are more your thing, you could consider posing as a Mediterranean monk seal. Currently one of the most endangered mammals in the world, this pinniped was once abundant across the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and northern coast of Africa. It was so popular it was the emblem for one of the first Greek coins made around 500 BC, shortly before the Roman Empire spread into Greece. Deliberate killing and habitat encroachment are largely responsible for their decline, with likely less than 500 individuals remaining.
Consider a costume guaranteed to grant you respect! The meadow viper is a small, attractive venomous snake, displaying a beautiful and intricate zigzag pattern marking the length of its back. Feasting primarily on crickets and grasshoppers, this reptile is found in Italy, France and a few other eastern European countries. Habitat destruction and over-collection account are current threats to this vulnerable species.
Who can resist a fabulous fox? The red fox is an attractive member of the family Canidae, and is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere. They are unique in that they can produce 28 different vocalizations, and are the largest species of true fox. In ancient Celtic tradition, the red fox was honored for its wisdom.
If bugs with big eyes are calling you, you could consider transforming into a black pennant. This dragonfly is slick and smart, predating on smaller insects, it is also capable of posturing its body to cool down in hotter temperatures. This little insect is found throughout several Mediterranean countries, as well as central Asia and northern Africa.
If you want to feel like a rare find, go trick-or-treating as an Arno gobi. This vulnerable freshwater fish is endemic to Italy, and is only found in six river basins and two lakes in the Tyrrhenian catchment of Central Italy, a region which played a significant role in Roman culture. With a large head, elongated body and oversized mouth, this species is known for its active acoustic communication.
The long-eared owl no doubt had a presence in early Halloween festivals, as the subspecies Asio otus otus was found throughout both Celtic and Roman territories. Owls have long been considered ethereal species, and their calls can be eerie and haunting . Not only does this bird of prey possess special feathers to remain silent during its stealth hunting missions, it can also swallow prey whole!
And don’t forget, if you’re looking for something to entertain your little monsters this halloween, ARKive has a whole host of free, fun-filled Halloween activities. From monstorous masks to spooky games and quizes, there is something for everyone, so be sure to check it out!
Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant