<p>As the only mammal that can fly, bats were considered enigmatic beings—possibly with nefarious motives—in ancient times. "They resemble much despised rats but with peculiar, clawed wings that enclose their bodies like a dark cape as they hang upside down in trees," says Mayor.</p> <p>Pictured: A golden-mantled flying fox <i>(Pteropus pumilus)</i> at the Columbus Zoo</p>

Bats

As the only mammal that can fly, bats were considered enigmatic beings—possibly with nefarious motives—in ancient times. "They resemble much despised rats but with peculiar, clawed wings that enclose their bodies like a dark cape as they hang upside down in trees," says Mayor.

Pictured: A golden-mantled flying fox (Pteropus pumilus) at the Columbus Zoo

Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

How Cats, Rats, Bats, and More Became Halloween Animals

How spooky animals got their nefarious reputations

No Halloween haunted house is complete without a black cat lurking in the window, and spiderwebs stretched across dark corners. Perhaps a menacing bat, hanging from the ceiling, greets those who dare to pass through the front door.

Certain animals are simply synonymous with Halloween. But why? For starters, says Stanford University classics scholar Adrienne Mayor, they're "nocturnal and predatory."

"They engage in mysterious activities in the dark and so they have been cloaked in superstition since ancient times. The combination of dark gray, brown, or black shades with cryptic nighttime habits evoked a sense of awe and fear back in the time when the only lights at night were oil lamps and wax candles."

In honor of America's spookiest holiday, we asked Mayor to tell us more about the shadowy nature of Halloween's creepiest creatures.

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