Throughout human history, animals have always been related to the legends and folklore of certain regions. While some species represent a “sweeter” mysticism, there are also those animals that have come to be associated with death across different cultures.
But why have these creatures become synonymous with the end of life? There are different explanations for each of them. With that in mind, we have put together a list of six animals that have historically been compared to a sign of death and the afterlife. Just look!
The southern ground hornbill is a carnivorous bird that hunts small animals and insects, and is found in grasslands, savannas and open forest areas. These shiny-beaked hunters are seen as bringing death and destruction in nine countries across southern and eastern Africa, according to a study published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine.
In general, people considered hornbills to be a bad omen. In Zimbabwe and Malawi, some people believe that when a hornbill lands on the roof of a house, it brings bad luck to its occupants. If hornbills are sighted in odd numbers, in turn, this is considered a clear sign of death. In Tanzania, the bird is seen as a bearer of dead souls and angry spirits.
In Japan, red dragonflies emerge as adults in low-lying grasslands and migrate to high mountains to feed. The abundance of these creatures tends to increase in early autumn, when they descend from the mountains to low-lying breeding grounds.
This moment is perfectly aligned with the summer festival of Obon, which celebrates the spirits of the dead returning to visit their loved ones. For this reason, these insects were seen as messengers of these spirits for these people.
There is no surprise that vultures are on the list of animals associated with death. After all, these birds use their incredible sense of smell to detect carrion from more than a kilometer away, and their propensity to seek out corpses in the wild and feed on their flesh is not something that helps their reputation.
In Ancient Egypt, for example, vultures were seen as a symbol of cleansing within the circle of life and death. Some cultures also see these birds as sacred ways of getting rid of the dead.
In many cultures, bats have long been associated with death. For example, the Maori people of New Zealand associate bats with the hokioi, a mythical nocturnal bird said to predict death.
Legend has it that this bird had never been seen, but only heard at night by its cries in the darkness. Researchers believe the hokioi was actually an extinct bird known as Haast’s eagle — a bird of prey large enough to carry a small child.
So-called carrion crows are extremely intelligent birds that eat everything from berries to the decaying flesh of dead animals. Therefore, in Irish folklore, Badb is part of a trio of war goddesses who took the form of a raven.
This folklore, according to studies, said that this goddess was capable of foreshadowing bloodshed, which terrified soldiers on the battlefields. Therefore, the appearance of a crow was a clear sign that people were about to die.
In the wild, rats are well known to be carriers of many pathogens — some of which are deadly. For example, these rodents were blamed for the spread of the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed at least 25 million people in Europe in just 5 years.
Studies carried out in recent years, however, suggest that mice were not the main vectors of the disease. Even so, this hasn’t stopped these creatures from becoming a clear sign of death in several cultures.