Trick or treat?

Halloween is not really a thing in Australia, although as a commercial event and fun for the kids, it’s growing here. A few years ago, I had a great Halloween in San Francisco – they really get into it in the USA. Sales assistants were dressed as witches and pumpkins and in other imaginative costumes. A bank teller had a lot of big purple balls on her costume – turns out she was a bunch of grapes!

If you think of it (as I do) as the pre-Christian Celtic harvest festival Samhain, it marks the end of harvest and the beginning of the darker (winter) half of the year. The souls of the dead are thought to visit their old homes and families, hence a somewhat spooky bent with ghosts and ghoulies supposed to abound. It was helpful that, on that visit to the States, I was spending time with a group of friendly neo-pagans, who were able to explain some of the more arcane aspects that the general public were probably not aware of.

In the Western Christian tradition, 31 October is All Hallow’s Eve, the evening before the observance of Allhallowtide, when the dead (saints and ordinary people) are remembered. There is disagreement among academics (of course there is!) over whether the Christians supplanted the pagan tradition. Whatever the reason, it is popular in many countries.

As a seasonal festival, it doesn’t really work in the Southern Hemisphere since the seasons are reversed, but the spooky is often attractive at any time. Horror movies, zombies and body horror can give some people an exciting frisson of fear, in a good way. (Doesn’t work for me, but it takes all kinds.)

All this is a roundabout way of introducing my next beastie, an example of body horror if ever there was one.

The sally wattle (Acacia salicina) near my house finally fell over last week. I’d been reluctant to cut it down as a squirrel glider had been supping on the sap for quite a while (we could hear its distinctive yapping at night), and various birds had been using it as a perch. But a storm finally knocked it over and revealed something like this in the crack. I didn’t get a photo of my actual ‘witchetty grub’ as I left it overnight, expecting to get a photo in the morning, little realising what was about to happen.

Curl grub, larva of scarab beetle; photo courtesy of CSIRO ScienceImage

I was expecting it to turn into a moth of some kind, but in fact it is a curl grub, the larva of a scarab beetle. In the morning, a process of transformation started. The grub gradually shed its outer skin, revealing a multi-legged monstrosity, far from the cute and furry moth I was expecting. The black area (in the photo below) is the grub’s mouth, which had been busy demolishing the sally wattle over a couple of years.

The pupa continue to wriggle and little by little the outer skin was completely shucked off.

Alas, I will never know what scarab beetle it would have turned into because after a couple of weeks it stopped moving, died and started falling apart.

The transformation was the trick – the Halloween treat will be lunch for a lucky kookaburra!

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6 Responses to Trick or treat?

  1. Roselene Cusack says:

    I definitely don’t do the modern Halloween. The older version is more in line with my beliefs. And as for trick or treat, it’s gotten ridiculous with some greedy people taking everything from the basket I used to leave out.
    But the last couple of years are different, a neighbour’s bub died of SIDS on 31 October so no celebration at all.
    Your beast is rather interesting, and quite a good size. I haven’t seen one at that stage of development before.

  2. Prue Gargano says:

    The Dutch do (or did) their version of Halloween in an altogether innocent and Christian way. The custom in the far north of the Netherlands where I used to live was for children to hollow out their pumpkins, insert a (usually rather wobbly) candle, and after dark, go from door to door singing rather nonsensical songs, the most common of which reinforce simple realities rather than scary propositions (Freely translated: ‘St Martin, St Martin/all cows have tails, all girls wear skirts/and look, here comes the saint!’ and ‘Here I walk with my lantern/ and my lantern walks here with me/The stars now sparkle in the skies once blue/and below on earth we children do too’). For this the anticipated reward was sweets.So some of the attributes of Halloween, but prettied up. But I suspect that Dutch children have also adopted Halloween now. Globalisation has much to answer for…

  3. Kathy Pearce says:

    The photos are absolutely fascinating!

    Thanks, Joy

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