Our Gothest Animals

If you skew more Ursula than Ariel, you’ve swum to the right post. Summon your Halloween spirit on this tour of our top eight Academy misfits.
October 23, 2023
Giant Pacific octopus in Steinhart Aquarium glares menacingly at the camera from between its tentacles. Photo by Kathryn Whitney
Honorable mention: Giant Pacific octopus. Kathryn Whitney © 2015 California Academy of Sciences

For those of us who thrive in darkness, October in San Francisco is the cruelest month. Why? It’s hideously warm and sunny. Luckily, Steinhart Aquarium offers refuge from the clement weather—and the perfect opportunity to highlight eight of its residents that best embody spooky season.

Each animal was ranked using four key criteria, and they appear in least-to-most-goth order below:

  • Appearance: Attributes that intimidate and/or are seance-appropriate
  • Habitat: Preference for dark, dank, or otherwise somber environments
  • Musical taste: Probability of encountering the animal at a Cure concert
  • Behavior: Tendency to brood, bite, or dance menacingly

Enjoy our macabre menagerie, and we wish you a moody, morose, and altogether morbid Halloween.

Plunge to the bottom of this post for a map of the featured creatures.


A Surinam toad rests in its habitat at Steinhart Aquarium
#8: Surinam toad

Females let their young get under their skin—literally.

After mating, males will push 60-100 freshly laid eggs onto females' backs, where a layer of skin will grow over them. After 3-4 months…POP! Tiny toadlets burst forth in a trypophobe's worst nightmare.


Lush carnivorous plants including butterwort, pitcher plants, and sundews on exhibit in Steinhart Aquarium
#7: Carnivorous plants 

A wicked garden that feeds on flesh, not sun.

Butterworts, Cape sundews, pitcher plants, and Venus flytraps produce sweet-smelling liquids that lure unsuspecting insects into their sticky clutches…and then digest them alive.

An electric eel swims in its habitat at Steinhart Aquarium. Photo by Gayle Laird
#6: Electric eel

Goths live to shock. This fish shocks to live.

With an undulating fin running the length of its underbelly, this predator is stunning in more ways than one. Electricity-producing organs help it maneuver through murky waters—and incapacitate prey with 500-volt shocks.

Gayle Laird © 2022 California Academy of Sciences

White spot assassin bugs on exhibit at Steinhart Aquarium. Photo by Gayle Laird
#5: White spot assassin bug

Killer style with a kiss of death.

This insect is black-and-white chic with two toxic tricks up its proboscis: It injects one kind of venom to liquefy its prey’s tissues for easy slurping, and uses another to defend against predators with a painful bite.

Gayle Laird © 2020 California Academy of Sciences

Screenshot of a YouTube video showing a close-up of a European medicinal leech against a white background
#4: European medicinal leech

From villainous ghoul to vital tool.

Gone are the days of bloodletting, but this sneaky little sucker is useful in modern medicine. Leeches inject anesthetics to block pain so prey won’t notice a bite, and anticoagulants to stop blood from clotting during a meal.


Close up photo of a grumpy-looking wolf eel in its habitat at Steinhart Aquarium
#3: Wolf eel

All bark, some bite.

An exemplar of animal gothness: Fearsome appearance but secretly gentle. Sure, its powerful jaws can easily crunch through crustaceans, but this misunderstood fish is known to be curious, and even affectionate, with familiar divers.

Disco fang blenny in the Venom exhibit at Steinhart Aquarium—note its fangs. Photo by Gayle Laird
#2: Disco fang blenny

Don’t mess with a fish with eyeliner.

With a dramatic black stripe angling through its eyeballs, this fish is as fashionably fierce as it looks. If attacked, it chomps on its predator, delivering venom with long, grooved fangs. Disoriented, the predator will spit out the often unharmed fish.

Gayle Laird © 2020 California Academy of Sciences

Skeleton shrimp with limbs extended clings to a tunicate on exhibit at Steinhart Aquarium. Photo by Gayle Laird
#1: Skeleton shrimp

The dead can dance.

No bones about it: This unusual little invertebrate easily takes the goth crown. Despite its frail, pale appearance, it comes to life when it senses prey, swaying its spindly body to snatch a snack as if dancing to a darkwave beat.

Gayle Laird © 2022 California Academy of Sciences

Our interactive map will help you navigate the shadowy corridors of Steinhart Aquarium. Please note, however, that it doesn't include the location of individual species.

Map of Steinhart Aquarium with numbered icons indicating where animals are on exhibit

What do you think? Click a Claude!


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