These and much more strange-but-true facts are headlined in a new book by best-selling author Chana Stiefel entitled, Animal Zombies: And Other Bloodsucking Beats, Creepy Creatures and Real-Life Monsters just released by National Geographic Kids.
Selecting Stiefel as the author was an easy decision. After all, she grew up in South Florida and delighted in her family’s regular ‘swamp tromps” in the Everglades and overnight camping trips in deep dark woods. She once trekked eight miles in total darkness to witness Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea erupt and went on a mission to find the elusive quetzal in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest. She is the former editor at Scholastic’s Science World and has authored more than 20 nonfiction books for kids.
But even Stiefel admits researching all things gory, gross and creepy for the Animal Zombies book makes the popular television show, The Walking Dead, seem like a walk in the park.
“I’ve always been curious and have always loved science and writing,” says Stiefel, now a mother of four and living in New Jersey. “This was a fascinating writing project.”
In her introduction, Stiefel cautions “brave readers” by stating: “Scientists still do not understand the unique role that many species play in the great web of life. So, tread lightly as you explore nature’s haunted house. In the end, you might go from ‘yikes’ to ‘likes’ for the crafty, spine-tingling wonders that surround you.”
So, let’s dive in and discover some fascinating facts about the animal kingdom from the pages of this 96-paged book filled with up-close vivid photographs of creepy creatures.
The Brainwashed Ladybug: When a wasp is ready to lay an egg, she flies over to an unassuming ladybug, stings it in the belly and injects an egg. The wasp’s life cycle actually begins inside the body of the ladybug! On the outside, the ladybug appears perfectly normal, but in about three weeks, the wasp larva chews a hole in its exoskeleton and wriggles out. It spins a silk cocoon around itself and the ladybug causing this “zombified” ladybug to act as a bodyguard for the cocoon. Eventually, the unlucky ladybug dies or recovers and is at risk once again for a wasp attack.
Misunderstood Vampire Bats: These are the only mammals that feed entirely on blood. Yes, they are nocturnal and do use sharp fangs to pierce animal skin. However, a vampire bat bite is not fatal. As Stiefel writes, “Although vampire bats have a bad rap as scary bloodsuckers, they are actually gentle creatures that are more helpful than harmful. They live in colonies and will vomit their bloody meal and share it with another bat in the colony that needs food. The chemical in vampire bat saliva that prevents blood from clotting has been developed into a medicine to help prevent strokes in humans.”
Fiendish Fleas: These tiny, wingless insects have reputations for being able to leap long distances. They do not have fangs, but their tube-like mouthparts work like sharp drinking straws that pierce a victim’s skin. It can survive for long stretches of time eating next to nothing. Fleas also sport body armor. Hard plates called sclerites protect fleas from getting squashed.
Perilous Portuguese Man-of-War: This puffy, balloon-like species is not a single animal like a jellyfish, but a colony of organisms working together as one. The dozens of tentacles can extend up to 165 feet long and are covered with venom-packed cells called nematocysts. Even dead man-of-wars washed up on the beach can still pack a painful sting for weeks after their demise. One of the only species able to feast on man-of-war without any reactions to the stings are loggerhead sea turtles that sport thick skins.
Glassy Ghost Frog: You can actually see the internal organs at work in this translucent amphibian—including the heart beating! These eerie frogs come out at night and live in the rain forests of Central and South America. They don’t float, but hop and females lay a clutch of eggs on the underside of leaves in the rainforest. Males will squeak and wrestle to keep predators like wasps from reaching the eggs.
Quivering Quills: The crested porcupine hunts at night for skeletons and digs up their bones. Then it brings the skeleton back to an underground den where it gnaws on the bones to file down its long, sharp teeth that keep on growing throughout the life of this rodent. When threatened, the porcupine’s short quills are the sharpest. It also sports hollow quills by the tail that rattle when they vibrate to make a back-off hissing sound.
Wailing Wolves: A wolf is capable of taking down a large moose or elk and can eat up to 20 pounds of meat in a single meal. That is the equivalent of a person eating 80 burgers at once! Most wolf packs number about 10 and the howl sound is unique to each one. Wolves also communicate effectively with body language. For instance, when one wolf submits to a stronger wolf, he will crouch, whimper, tuck in his tail, roll over or lick the other wolf’s mouth. Wolves also dance and bow for play.
Body Invaders: As Stiefel writes, “While you go about your day, tiny bugs are laying eggs, feeding on your dead skin cells, multiplying and crawling all over your body—inside and out! Some of these hitchhikers are mikes, tiny arachnids with short, stumpy legs and claws that hold on to your skin for dear life. They hide out in your eyelashes, hair follicles or cracks and crevices all over your body.” The itch mite burrows in between fingers and on wrists, ankles and elbows and cause nasty rashes that require prescription medication to correct. The follicle mite can only be seen under a microscope, but its needle-sharp mouthparts pierce skin and feed on oil from a person’s sweat glands.
Spiders to the Rescue: According to bug scientists, if you weighed all the spiders on Earth, they would weigh 25 million tons! Spiders eat bugs, which means fewer pests in homes and gardens. Without spiders, scientists say that the insect populations would explode and food crops would be decimated.
Finally, Stiefel shares fascinating facts from scientists at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. In a study of just 50 American homes to find out what bugs moved it, the team collected 10,000 specimens—both living and dead—and discovered as many as 100 different species of creepy critters in a single house.
As Stiefel shares, “Bugs often hide out in dark basements, drainpipes, crevices, behind the walls and under the fridge. These include stinkbugs, moth flies, earwigs, dust mites, silverfish and carpet beetle larvae.
“Barely visible at 0.2 inch in length, carpet beetle larvae squirm from room to room in search of a meal, devouring dead insects, spilled pet food, fabrics, oats, flour and even our nail clippings!” says Stiefel.
To learn more about Stiefel and her upcoming books, please visit her website:
And to listen to her guest spot on Arden Moore’s Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio, please tune in at
By Sarah Zumhofe