Zombies Among Us
Photograph by David Peter Hughes
There has never been a case of a human turning into a mindless zombie and attacking friends and family. But ants? That’s a different story. A strange new fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, releases chemicals into an ant’s brain and controls its mind. The ant will deviate from its peers in line, abandon its duties, and go to the underside of a leaf or branch. There it awaits its death by fungus. A few days later, a stalk of the fungus that protrudes from the dead ant’s brain releases spores into the air—to find a new victim.
The Original Quidditch
Photograph by Pikoso.kz, Shutterstock
Witches were once considered valuable members of their communities. They relied on their knowledge of the natural world to mix medicines, cast out evil spirits, deliver babies, and help crops grow. For the last task, ancient witches straddled brooms and bounded through fields, believing the year’s crops would grow to the height of their highest leaps. Brooms have been linked to witch transportation ever since.
The Gentle Werewolf
Photograph by Swaine, Rex Features, Associated Press
It wasn’t the full moon or a magic ointment that turned Jesus "Chuy" Aceves into a wolfman. He was born that way. Gonzales suffers from hypertrichosis, also known as “werewolf syndrome.” It’s a rare genetic disorder that causes hair to grow everywhere it’s not supposed to on the chest and face – even on the eyelids. Fewer than 50 people with hypertrichosis have been identified since the first known case in 1551.
Of course Gonzales and the others with werewolf syndrome have none of the temperamental issues of the werewolf monster. In fact, Aceves is pretty popular. "Women like hairy men," Aceves said, "and I get a lot of proposals."
Only Mostly Dead
Photograph © US Patent Office
Is he dead or not? It may seem like an easy question to answer, but before modern science, doctors didn’t always diagnose death with 100 percent accuracy. This put a few unfortunate victims in an uncomfortable position … six feet under! The fear of waking up in a casket drove the invention of “life-revival devices” like the Bateson’s Belfry. Invented in 1852, it was a coffin-mounted bell that panicked people could ring if they woke up deep in the ground.
Itty Bitty Dragon
Photograph by feathercollector, Shutterstock
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … No, it’s a Draco lizard! These teacup-size reptiles of Southeast Asia can catch the wind and glide between the trees using wings of skin stretched over their extra-long ribs. These real-life dragons would be scary if they could breathe fire—and weren’t small enough to become bird food!
The Rare Unicorn
Photograph by Associated Press
They may not have the magical healing powers of the mythical unicorn, but deer and other antlered animals are occasionally born with a single horn, sometimes positioned at the center of their head. This rare genetic flaw could have inspired the unicorn legend a long time ago.
The Real Dracula
Photograph by Richcat, Shutterstock
The scariest thing about this pointy-toothed monster isn’t that he sleeps in a casket or sucks blood—it’s that he is based on a real person! Vlad III, aka Vlad Dracula, was a Romanian prince who employed some nasty tactics to defend his territory of Wallachia, a region south of Transylvania. Even during his lifetime, Vlad became famous for his enjoyment of torture and killing. He reportedly impaled tens of thousands of his enemies on stakes and then feasted among his victims. When a dinner guest complained about the rotten stink, Vlad called for the tallest stake and had the whiny diner impaled above the rest.
While he was never accused of drinking blood in his day, his sinister ways inspired author Bram Stoker to create the character of Count Dracula.
Photograph by Africanway, iStockphoto
Have you ever wondered where a modern-day sorceress might grocery shop? She would probably grab her goods at the Togo Voodoo Market in Lomé, the capital of the West African country of Togo. At this bizarre bazaar, tables overflow with teetering stacks of antelope skulls, grinning crocodile jaws, dried monkey paws, amulets, carved dolls, and mysterious elixirs—all essential ingredients for voodoo witchcraft. Voodoo is a ritual-rich religion that originated in West Africa and is still practiced today.
The Curse of the Mummy
Photograph by mountainpix, Shutterstock
Tomb walls in ancient Egypt were inscribed with spells to frighten away grave robbers. “To all who enter to make evil against this tomb,” read one inscription, “may the crocodile be against them on water and the snakes and scorpions be against them on land.” Indeed, tragedy tracked the discovery of King Tut’s grave by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. When the sponsor of the Tut expedition, Lord Carnarvon, died less than a year after the tomb was opened, reporters pounced on the idea that he’d fallen victim to a mummy’s curse. But it wasn’t crocs or scorpions that did in Lord Carnarvon. He died from an infected mosquito bite.