Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

Monsters Of The Mountains spooky october
Today’s Spooky October post comes to us by way of Ed Myers.


MONSTERS OF THE MOUNTAINS written by Ed Myers Bryson City, NC

“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

Scottish Saying

What must it have been like for the early settlers of these southern mountains, what monsters to drub the nether reaches of nightmare?

Go back far enough and see a mastodon or saber-toothed tiger. More recently, “painters”, bison, black bears and long-as-body rattlesnakes.

Most of these have gone by the evolutionary wayside, but some “monsters” we still have among us, mostly unseen, or unrecognized, but there nonetheless.

I’m not talking simply about the animal kingdom, but the vegetative one as well. Did you know, for example, that the deadliest plant in North America and the one that supplied death’s draft to Socrates is a common adornment of our mountain streams (and evidently those of Greece)? What is it?* (hint, it’s not a tree)

I could go on and on (and do…ask my wife), but, for now, let’s take a skip over to the more miniature kingdoms of insects and spiders (in physical size, if not their omnipresence) and look at three mountain “monsters” that I, for one, have encountered either here or across the range in east Tennessee.

First up, the six-spotted fishing spider. Anyone who “has but eyes to see” and has lived here for more than a few hours knows that arachnophobes have no place in the mountains, which host a virtual cornucopia of the spiderly kind. Of the somewhat dangerous, there are few, primarily the common black widow and brown recluse. Of the others, there are many that keep us as free as we can get from other flying and crawling vermin: ‘nats, roaches, other spiders, etc. Of these, look up the common garden spider and the golden orb spider, if you want to see the artistic side of nature in all its glory.

Back to point. I was going down the drive the other day and chanced to look down into the creek that borders our property, hoping to get a better look at some of the water snakes that abound (commonly confused with water moccasins, which don’t exist here), when I chanced upon this comparatively huge creature sitting side-by-side with the snake on the water’s edge.  It is, as named, a six-spotted fishing spider. Here’s a photo I took of it.

Six Spotted Fishing Spider


It’s not the common water strider we see atop the rare pockets of calm in our streams (and not a spider at all), but a humongous denizen of the tribe of eight-legged terrors. You can’t really tell from this photo, but it’s about four inches across from toe-tip to toe-tip, and half an inch across the carapace. In other words, put a nickel under it and you won’t see anyone’s face.

I, for one, never dreamed that such a large (and harmless) spider existed in North America, let alone these mountains. But there it was, challenging large tarantulas for spread, if not breadth. If you want to know more, see: I should note that, although I’m not an expert, I’d say this variety has to be of the kind more commonly associated with north-central America, being much larger than its more common kin.

Then, there’s the “velvet ant” (or “cow-killer” as it’s sometimes known), so called owing to the numerous velvety upright hairs on its body. I have encountered them outside our house here, on the walking road nearby and elsewhere. See:  It’s red and black, marbled markings are extraordinary, as is its size (about half an inch) and its bite (see “cow-killer).

And, it’s not an ant, but a variety of wasp, another too common insect species here. The skin of a velvet ant is so thick and its attitude so great that it feeds on other wasps…in their nests…so it’s kind of a friend in a liberal interpretation of the word. Don’t worry, it’s not aggressive and seldom bites, unless you are the touchy-feely type…and stupid. Read about its mating habits, not in a prurient way of course, but to highlight the extreme differences in forms between males and females.

Then, there’s the mountain scorpion (Vaejovis carolinianus), a relatively common, yet rarely seen varietal of southern Appalachia. I came upon this one in my earlier youth, when a rich kid from Oak Ridge, TN, showed me some amongst the crumbling quartz that abounds there. At the time, I was among the many who thought scorpions a purely desert creature and occasional science fiction mutant. Wrong. They are among us, if, again, relatively harmless. See here for more:

I could go on about cicada killers, ant lions, doodlebugs, hellbenders, various mushrooms and other toxics, whatever I saw in the compost pile, etc. But, forget about the lions and tigers (no longer here by most accounts) and bears (very much with us), there are other monsters aplenty amongst us, if we, as said before, have but eyes to see.

Take a look. They won’t hurt you, but in your dreams. You may even want to take one home to show Mom.

But that, as is said, is another story.

*water hemlock


I hope you enjoyed Ed’s post as much as I did-although I do find myself itchy and wanting to pull my feet up under me after reading it. I’ve never seen the spider-nor the ant (and am in no hurry to either) but I have seen scorpions aplenty.

In all the years I lived in Granny and Pap’s house I don’t recall ever seeing a scorpion. But after The Deer Hunter and I built our house up the hill from them-we found scorpions in the kitchen-usually dead inside a pitcher or seldom used bowl. More worrisome we found them in the girls nursery-scurrying along side the baseboards looking for a place to hide. In defense of the scary looking scorpions-none of us were ever stung-and I haven’t seen one in many years. I guess they soon decided a house with 2 banshee babies was no where to live.




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  • Reply
    Mary Lou mcKillip
    October 27, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Tipper. Ed had a great story by I had never thought of them as monsters. The latest pests as icall them are the fire ants North Carolina never had those when I was growing up boy I step in a mound of them monsters as Ed called them. I was pressure washing boy did that pressure washer came in handy it took me a while to recover from those pests

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    October 25, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    I don’t think I want to meet up with any of those beasties. I hate spiders, no matter what kind they are.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    We were in the gorgeous fall mountains of N. GA last week, where I unwittingly picked up a scorpion out of the shower! Then a centipede in the laundry room – thought I left those critters behind in Florida.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    October 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Used to love them doodle-bugs! 🙂

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    October 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    and Ed…yep we have more monsters living around than one might think…Could you imagine an Ant Lion taking a superduper muscle builder or a growth hormone!..What a ugly prehistoric looking beastie that would be..with huge pinchers!..I am afraid that saying the rhyme,
    Doodle bug, doodle bug..
    Crawl away home,
    Your house is on fire, and your children are gone…would do us all in…
    We used to lay in the dirt and watch the doodle bugs (ant lions). We also would fish with wild onion stems in the yard for those grubs with the pinchers!..When the onion stem would move, after placing in the hole, we would snatch it out with the worm on the end! Great fun!
    Now then, I am getting concerned about the varmits that are invading our space that aren’t supposed to be here….The mound building Fire Ants…we have distroyed two mounds, they sting like the devil and go crazy when you mess with the mound! We have not seen one this year…The coyotes moved in and now the Armadillos are invading middle Tennessee…they tear up the yard but not as bad as the wild boar…We are surrounded by the West, East and South with habitats for the Cottonmouth…I will get laughed out of town but I think with the climate change it will be just a matter of time before we see them here….Oh, and I can’t wait for the Killer Bees to arrive…NOT…Scary..We have the velvet red Ant a beautiful thing but very fierce looking…but the color is amazing..Scorpians abound under the dry rocks..Only had one in the house when we first moved in as the house was empty for a while…I kid you not we have Trap door spiders and Wolf spiders the size of small Tarantulas…I do have a cat that hates spiders and kills them on site…to the point of getting bitten sometimes on the lip with a little swelling..but he still goes after them..I wonder if he gets high on their venom….
    Thanks Tipper and Ed…
    PS…Not all of us were rich in Oak Ridge..LOL Also, you can keep your four inch spotted water spider…Now I am wondering it we have them down by the wet weather spring! No poison Hemlock though!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Tipper…I just reviewed the most awesome book on my blog yesterday! I know you loved Peggy Poe Stern’s
    Heaven High-Hell Deep and this one reminds me of it! It’s also got ghosts and ” a Nora Bonesteel ” character. It’s also set on Black Mountain, NC . Hope you’ll come over a comment on it!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    So many creepy-crawleys out there… it’s a wonder we ever go outside sometimes. 🙂 Great post, Ed!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Woooh, that was some post! You know often have I thought, since I am Spanish and they were the first to check out Georgia, and many other states, HOW THOSE “CONQUISTADORS” (for that matter ANY explorer) DARED TO SNOOP AROUND THIS LAND. I would have ran at the first sign of a hairy-wasp-ant!!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I’d like to thank Ed Myers for all
    that information about the spooky
    critters outdoors. As many times as I have walked deep into our
    beautiful mountains as a kid, and
    slept in a bunch of piled up leaves, its a wonder I didn’t get
    bit by something. I’m still here.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    October 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    What an incredible story. Great mountain information. I do not like spiders, but they sure like my windows by building webs each night. Great spooky story!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 11:44 am

    That was an enlightening story but i still don’t like spiders,snakes or bugs of any kind. Have killed more of those old cow ants this summer than ever. Maybe because it’s been so hot and dry. Have found some dead scorpions in the house.Don’t know if it’s from having it exterminated last yr. or cause of spraying with Bengal this yr. At least something caused them to die,which is wonderful.

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    October 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I see from the link that our water hemlock is a very close relative of the hemlock that killed Socrates. Whichever one chooses, the result is the same.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    October 24, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Lordy Ed: For a minute there I thought you might be that famous Ed Myers who plays a mean bass fiddle!
    Being a native North Carolina child, I am very familiar with ‘bugs on the water’ in the mountain streams flowing through the Matheson Cove of Clay County. In the summer time our favoright passtime was watching the bugs on the water and reading “True Story” magazines in the shade of the popular trees! Of course this was after hoeing corn all morning! Such activities made me eager to learn more about our world!
    I will have to read your post again to master all those bug details! My grandson, Connor, would be mighty pleased to discuss bugs with you!
    Eva Nell Mull(Oak Ridge, TN
    p.s. There are not any ‘smart’ boys living in Oak Ridge now!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 24, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Now that’s spooky! Ed, you had me going to google to get a better look at some of these critters.
    As a child I got the daylights scared out of me by a very big tarantula. I’ve never forgotten that spider and it was a long time ago. We lived in Texas at the time and I was about 3 years old. Now I can’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday but I can tell you exactly what that tarantula looked like. LOL
    Thanks for the another view of our world.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    October 24, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I have an old field that isn’t much good for anything except rabbits and birds. I bush hog it in sections so that there will always be cover for them. In the fall the big praying mantis are in the tall weeds in great numbers and fly out in front of the tractor. My wife is more afraid of them than she is of spiders.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 24, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Tipper–Unless I have another creature confused with the cow-killer “ant,” the insects I have always called by that name are quite a bit bigger than the half inch Mr. Myers describes.They were more like an inch and a half to two inches.
    They were plentiful on the old Bryson City golf course (it was situated where the current recreational park is located). The golf course had sand “greens” and apparently that sand and the banks surrounding the greens formed ideal habitat for them.
    I was never stun but did stomp on them many times (they are devilisly difficult to kill). Jack Williams, a school teacher who also ran the golf course (and who must have hired and fired me at least ten times a summer when I worked for him–he had a mighty temper), got irritated with them one day and solved the problem of them being difficult to kill. There were several of them running around one of the “greens” and he said: “I’ll take care of that!” He went to his house, got his shotgun, loaded up with No. 8 shotshells, and proceeded to shoot every cowkiller he saw. That might have been a bit of overkill, but they expired.
    I haven’t seen one in a ‘coon’s age.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 8:16 am

    well we certainly do not want this story to get out to the tourist sites for your state. scared me silly since i had no idea all these hidden monsters were out there. the spider would totally freak me out. reminds me of my grandmothers spiders here in FL that were as big as the palm of my hand. i could not sleep at night for fear one would crawl on me during the night.

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    October 24, 2011 at 7:43 am

    That was an excellent post, Ed. I live a bit north of the Mason Dixon line and we have our own scary spiders and snakes and wooly creatures….

  • Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Such a creative method of educating people who unknowingly stroll along a stream in the forest. Great mountain information! I definitely am not a spider lover, but I truly enjoy the beauty of their artistic webs. I am off to research the water hemlock.

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