Why these Halloween animals are actually more ‘cool’ than ‘ghoul’
As Halloween approaches and horror fans turn up their scare dials in preparation, it’s impossible to miss the invasion of typically ‘scary’ creatures in the media; hissing snakes lurking in the dark, filthy rats hiding in the sewers, and spiders with fangs waiting to pounce.
The ‘characters’ many of these animals unknowingly portray are often in stark contrast to their typical temperaments and behaviours, but the associated myths these portrayals inevitably breed can leave many people facing irrational fears the whole year round.
Ahead of the Park’s Shriek Week event, zookeeper Helena Farley is keen to dispel some of those myths and educate people on the beauty of these much-maligned animals: “Drusillas is home to several Halloween-associated animals, many of which have friendly encounters with school children every week as part our education sessions. Around this time of year, these animals get a really bad reputation, so we’ve put together a video for social media busting some of the myths and showing why they aren’t bad at all, they are actually really cool.”
Rats are no strangers to poor reputation, viewed as smelly animals that live in filth, and portrayed almost predatory towards humans in many movies.
Helena continued: “People assume rats are dirty and smelly, but they really aren’t, they clean themselves all the time - yes, they have a smell, but so do humans! People also don’t like their worm-like tails, but they are not slimy or anything, they are amazing animal adaptations used to balance which is they are such great climbers. Rats are also portrayed as animals that will bite humans, but they are just as likely to bite as any other creature and will only do so if they feel threatened. They make amazing pets as they are super intelligent and easy to train, which is why you see rats in lots of popular movies such as Harry Potter.”
The Zoo is also home to several species of snake – an animal that can trigger intense fear for many. Viewed as slimy and aggressive, snakes are often demonised on screen.
Helena says: “Fear of snakes is a very common one, and I’ll admit that about 20 years ago you wouldn’t have got me in a room with a snake, now I love them! The myths around them of course don’t help, and people think they are mean, slimy and wet. Their skin is actually very dry and smooth, and they have all these incredible muscles they are constantly using to move and climb. They are also victim to the biting myths, but they aren’t interested in ‘hunting’ humans and are far more scared of us than we are of them, they would only bite if they felt they needed to defend themselves, they are far more likely to run away!”
During October half term, visitors can meet and learn about an array of creepy crawlies in the Park’s Discovery Centre – including Madagascan hissing cockroaches and giant African millipedes, both of whom are often vilified.
“I love teaching about our creepy crawlies as they really aren’t as scary as they are made out to be, they are incredibly fascinating.” Helena continued, “Cockroaches are not disgusting and dirty like people believe – they do sometimes live in dirty areas, but that’s because they are extraordinary survival experts and can live anywhere, they could even survive a nuclear explosion! I love showing people their protective armour, as their head and bodies are hidden under a false ‘helmet and horns’ and you have to look underneath to see their cute little bodies.”
“Similarly, millipedes are not planning on biting you - unless they are really scared. In fact, their usual defence tactic is to poop when they feel threatened! And no, they don’t have a million legs, but their legs are super interesting to see up close, they look like they’ve been sewn onto their bodies and it’s wonderful to watch them all move in a wave-like motion. Here at the Park, children (and adults) handle our insects and bugs, and they always remain calm and friendly, not the mean beasts they are made out to be!”
The fuel behind a fear is often an absence of information, and Drusillas loves educating curious minds about our natural world, from the cute and fluffy to the creepy and fanged. Why not come and meet some ‘mini monsters’ this half term and see if it can change your mind?
Drusillas family-friendly Shriek Week is running from 22nd-30th October, with creepy crawly encounters, live action thrills, wicked photo opps, and lashings of devilish décor. Located just off the A27 in Alfriston, Drusillas Park is open daily from 10am. For more information please telephone 01323 874100 or visit www.drusillas.co.uk