The Goliath birdeater tarantula has a fearsome reputation that’s greatly exaggerated. (Ted S. Warren/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The animal kingdom is chock-full of critters that look like something out of a nightmare. Although some of them have earned their bad reputations, others are far less frightening than they seem. Here are a few seemingly spooky species you should get to know a little better.

Giant spiders

The hundreds of spiders that fall under the tarantula category can grow so big you might have trouble holding them with one hand. The so-called Goliath birdeater is a perfect example of a misunderstood tarantula; it rarely eats birds. And luckily, tarantulas aren't dangerous to humans. Lots of even freakier-looking arachnids, such as the whip spider, are also relatively harmless — although some can pinch you a little if they get scared.

Vampires of all kinds

What do vampire bats, vampire squids, vampire squirrels and vampire deer have in common? They're not vampires. Mostly.

Vampire squids are neither vampires nor squids: They're related to squids and octopuses, but they're actually the last of an ancient group that belongs in neither category. And instead of blood, they eat bits of creatures and junk that sinks into the deep sea. We know less about vampire squirrels, but scientists are pretty sure the myths about them sucking deer blood are false. The rumors probably started because the fluffy beasts have unusual (and weirdly threatening) tufts on their ears. Vampire deer do have fangs, but they use them for fighting, not eating.


A slow loris at a sanctuary in Indonesia. Unlike the other species described here, these endangered animals may woo you with their big eyes and fluffy fur, but they have a toxic bite. (Ed Wray/Getty Images)

Vampire bats are the only critters in the bunch that definitely drink blood, but the natives of Latin America seldom go after humans. If one is silly enough to bite you, rabies is a bigger concern than blood loss.

Deep-sea creatures

Scientists who trawl the bottom of the ocean for new species pull up some unfortunate-
looking organisms. But you've got to be weird to survive down there. Maybe you need giant eyes to see in the dark — or can give up eyes entirely. Maybe you glow! But even if they could get to the shallow water you swim in, most of these animals would have no interest in harming you. Take the ghost shark: It looks like someone's bad attempt at a shark puppet for a horror movie, but it doesn't have a reputation for attacking humans.

Cute but dangerous

Slow lorises seem too adorable to be real. But those cute little arms hide glands full of toxins. When threatened, slow lorises can lick their glands to create a painful bite. Some humans who are particularly sensitive to loris goo swell up or even have trouble breathing when bitten. Given that — and the fact that the animals are endangered — you shouldn't ever try to tickle a cute little loris. You're way better off getting cuddly with a tarantula.