It's that time of the year again when your newsfeed is flooded with scary faced pumpkins and recipes for spider-web-covered cakes. But if it's real-life scary you're after, look no further than the natural world which offers a fair bit of inspiration for all those ghastly tales and spooky stories. To round off your Halloween weekend, we've put together a collection of fascinating creatures that dwell below the surface.


Sidewinders are venomous snakes known for their twisty movements which allow them to glide along sandy deserts in Africa, North America, and the Middle East. Some species, like the Saharan horned viper are known to bury themselves beneath the sand where they lie in wait for any unsuspecting prey to wander within striking distance. 

Lurks: In the desert sands of Africa, North America, and the Middle East
Feeds on: Small rodents, lizards and birds
What's in the name: These snakes are named for their unique sideways movements that involve twisting in a series of S-shaped curves, while only allowing two parts of their bodies to touch the sand at any given moment.
Fun fact: The Peringuey's adder – a species of sidewinding snake found in Namibia and southern Angola (and featured in the clip above) can move at speeds of up to 18 mph (29 kmh).

Trapdoor Spider

A trapdoor spider photographed in South Africa's Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park. Image © Tania Kuhl

You'd be lucky to spot the burrow of a trapdoor spider. These arachnids – comprised of a number of families and genera across the globe – construct tube-like burrows capped with a hinged lid camouflaged with soil and vegetation. 

Lurks: Beneath the surface concealed in burrows made from silk, soil and vegetation
Feeds on: Insects, small vertebrates and other arthropods
What's in the name: These burrowing arachnids are named for their underground homes which they use to ambush prey. Trapdoor spiders lie in wait at the entrance to their burrows waiting for "tripwires" to be triggered, at which point they'll burst from the trapdoor and nab their prey.
Fun fact: Ctenizids, the best-known trap-door spiders, have a special row of teeth adapted for digging.


Coffinfish are perfectly adapted to life in the murky depths. They spend much of their time lying motionless on the ocean floor waiting for any potential meals to wander too close (something that does not happen all that often in their prey-deprived, deepsea habitats). Although they can swim, coffinfish prefer to reserve their energy and instead "walk" along the sandy bottom using their fins as feet.

Lurks: On muddy seafloors in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans
Feeds on: Anything that gets close enough and can fit in their mouths
What's in the name: Coffinfish are likely named for the shape of their bodies.
Fun fact: Coffinfish are capable of inflating their gill chambers, which effectively allows them to 'hold their breath' for up to four minutes.

Naked mole-rat

Image © Jedimentat44

Cute, little bratwurst hamsters or repulsive, subterranean mutants? You decide. Whichever camp you're in, it cannot be denied that naked mole-rats are downright fascinating animals. The world's longest-living rodents, they live in colonies led by a queen (much like many social insect species), are highly resistant to cancers, and can construct an intricate network of tunnels with a total length of up to 2.5 miles (4 kilometres).

Lurks: In burrows beneath the arid ground in eastern Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, Kenya, Dijbouti and Somalia 
Feeds on: Primarily very large, underground tubers (that can weigh as much as a thousand times the body weight of an average mole-rat). 
What's in the name: Also known as sand puppies, these rodents are mostly hairless with wrinkly skin giving them a 'naked' appearance.
Fun fact: Naked mole-rats are the only mammals that are almost entirely ectothermic (cold-blooded) which means they need to carefully regulate their body temperature – something they do by huddling together or basking in the warmth of shallow tunnels.

Chinese giant salamander

Image © Petr Hamerník

On the amphibian tree of life, giant salamanders are among the most evolutionarily isolated families, which makes their protection all the more critical. Currently the species suffers from habitat loss, pollution and over-exploitation in the wild as the salamanders are considered a food delicacy in China.

Lurks: Hill streams and clear-water lakes in fragmented pockets of habitat in central, south-western and southern China
Feeds on: Fish, worms, insect larvae, frogs, toads, crustaceans, molluscs, reptiles and small mammals
What's in the name: The species lives exclusively in China and is the world’s largest living amphibian.
Fun fact: It was reported in 1983 that a three-metre, 70-kilogram salamander was purchased at a local market in China.

Header image: Tania Kuhl Photography