Pet Sematary might make you afraid of cats, and Us might make you give rabbits a healthy distance, but I have 20 more creepy animals in books that will make you want to leave the lights on for nights to come. For your spring and summer horror-reading pleasures, check out my list of the creepiest animals in books below.
Animal horror is its own brand of genre fiction. Usually, it's associated with works like
Jaws, The Meg, and Rats — novels that deal with already-creepy animals turned killer. But there are plenty of other, awful creatures that will give you nightmares to read about, even when they aren't the primary antagonists of their stories. These animals might not be supernatural, or even particularly aggressive, but their presence or behavior is unsettling enough to send chills down your spine.
Whether you're looking for
your next favorite horror read, or you're in the mood to revisit a not-so-scary story you read in childhood, the books mentioned on the list below have you covered. Spanning YA and short stories to mainstream fiction, creepy animals can be found anywhere you can turn a page.
Check out my creepy animal picks below, and try not to get spooked:
Church from 'Pet Sematary' by Stephen King
Church is just a lazy housecat at the beginning of
Pet Sematary, but he returns from the titular graveyard as an undead killing machine. Between Stephen King's 1983 novel, the 1989 film adaptation, and the brand-new, 2019 theatrical release, Church has been scaring the crap out of readers for nearly four decades. Click here to buy. Botticelli Remorso from 'The Tale of Despereaux' by Kate DiCamillo
Like many novels with a mouse for a hero,
The Tale of Despereaux has a rat for a villain. Botticelli Remorso is an evil, scheming rat who knows nothing but cruelty. After kidnapping Princess Pea, he tries to lead Despereaux to her side, where he plans to eat the needle-wielding hero in front of his lady love. Talk about creepy. Click here to buy. The Overlords' Creatures in 'Shade's Children' by Garth Nix
The Overlords came and the adults disappeared. Now, no child grows to adulthood. Instead, on their 14th birthday, a child is taken to a factory to be transformed into an Overlord-serving creature. These creatures serve as the minor antagonists of
Shade's Children, and include: tunnelling, blood-draining Ferrets; bat-like, long-jawed Wingers; the Screamers, whose call incapacitates humans; and the Trackers, who seek out runaways with their exaggerated sensory organs. Click here to buy. The Birds from "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier's story imagines flocks of seagulls turning on the human residents of a coastal town in Cornwall. The vicious attackers were made infamous by Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film adaptation, but trust me — they're just as terrifying in the original tale.
Click here to buy. The Jukiere in 'Sorcerer of the Wildeeps' by Kai Ashante Wilson
In this fantasy novella, a band of merchants and merceneries must travel through the perilous Wildeeps to reach fortune on the other side. But the Wildeeps are home to the Jukiere, or jook-toothed tiger, which moves much more freely than the caravan, constrained to the road, and which has a taste for human blood.
Click here to buy. The Chickens in "Emily Breakfast" by Nalo Hopkinson
One of the stories in Nalo Hopkinson's 2015 collection, "Emily Breakfast" centers on a queer couple who lose one of their beloved chickens and must solve the mystery of her disappearance. Sounds cozy, right? It is, except for the part where the chickens
breathe fire. That's definitely a nope for me. Click here to buy. The Winged Monkeys in 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by L. Frank Baum
To be fair to them, the winged monkeys don't know they're horrifying, and they aren't trying to be cruel or creepy. They're magically bound in service to the Wicked Witch of the West, and she's the one pulling all the strings, making them kidnap Dorothy and stir up all sorts of other mischief. Still, for anyone who read
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at a young age, the winged monkeys are pure nightmare fuel. Click here to buy. Uliksi from 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' by Margaret Killjoy
So Uliksi isn't an animal
per se, but it looks like one. Looks like a deer, in fact. A deer the color of blood, with three horns instead of two. After reading about how the protector spirit turns on its devoted cultists, however, you'll give a wide berth to every deer you see. Click here to buy. Behemoth from 'The Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakov
A novel in which the devil comes to the Soviet Union,
The Master and Margarita features a quirky cast of rebels and criminals, including Behemoth. One of the devil's enforcers, Behemoth is an anthropomorphized cat who loves guns and drinks gasoline to heal his wounds. Let's just say you never want to run into this guy in a dark alley. Click here to buy. Chewie in 'Captain Marvel' by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Called Goose in the 2019
Captain Marvel film, Carol Danvers' alien companion was originally known as Chewie. Although he closely resembles a common housecat, Chewie, like all flerkens, comes equipped with a supply of deadly mouth-tentacles and an internal pocket dimension that can store the things — and people — he eats. Click here to buy. The Panther from 'Little House in the Big Woods' by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Although it's commonly remembered as the opener to a feel-good series of children's books,
Little House in the Big Woods terrorized generations of readers with Pa's story of "Grandpa and the Black Panther." Consequently, I have warned people for years to never follow the sound of a screaming woman into the woods, because it's likely a big cat hunting for prey. The chances that the story is true are slim, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Click here to buy. The Three Dogs in "The Tinder-Box" by Hans Christian Andersen
Known for writing sad fairy tales, such as "The Little Mermaid" and "The Little Match Girl," Hans Christian Andersen also wrote this adventure story, about a soldier who gets help from three canine compatriots when he is sent to the gallows. Even though the dogs were technically the good guys in Andersen's story, their freakishly large eyes were still hella scary to juvenile readers.
Click here to buy. Gmork from 'The NeverEnding Story' by Michael Ende
Children of the 1980s and '90s will remember Gmork, the agent of the Nothing — or rather, of the power behind the Nothing — who meets Atreyu in Spook City, which the Nothing is rapidly approaching. Although the events of the encounter differ between the book and the 1984 film adaptation, Gmork is just as terrifying and treacherous in one version as another.
Click here to buy. The Creatures in 'The Madman's Daughter' by Megan Shepherd
Based on H.G. Wells'
The Island of Doctor Moreau, Megan Shepherd's The Madman's Daughter follows 16-year-old Juliet Moreau as she pursues rumors of her father's existence on a remote island to learn whether or not the stories about his experiments are true. The doctor's very real experiments — human-animal hybrids — are the stuff of nightmares, and one of them has begun to terrorize the island, killing everyone it meets. Click here to buy. Jabberjays in 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins
Mutated birds used by the Capitol to spy on the commoners in various Districts, jabberjays were capable of memorizing and repeating human speech they overheard. In
Catching Fire, the birds torment Katniss by imitating the screams of her friends and loved ones. Although the jabberjays can't physically harm the Hunger Games tributes any more than another bird could, their psychological manipulation of the Games' contestants makes them one of the more frightening animals in literature. Click here to buy. Walking Machines from 'Gyo' by Junji Ito
Japanese master of horror Junji Ito never fails to disappoint, and his
Gyo is unsettlingly weird, even before the legged fish-monsters show up. The result of a warfare experiment gone horribly awry, the "walking machines" attach themselves to infected fish and other creatures, which emit a malodorous gas that powers their mechanical legs. Chaos and terror ensue when the walking machines invade Okinawa, and what they leave in their wake will leave you with nightmares. Click here to buy. Tlics in "Bloodchild" by Octavia E. Butler
Although the Tlic are a sentient species, their alien body composition, which is somewhere between that of a lizard and a bug, makes them pretty freakin' creepy. What's worse than the nearly unrecognizable figures of the Tlic is the way in which they reproduce — by depositing eggs into human hosts, and surgically harvesting those eggs once they hatch. The relationship between the Tlic and the Terrans isn't as fraught as it may seem, but the idea of alien egg implantation is still pretty gnarly.
Click here to buy. Mrs. Norris in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
There was nothing overtly magical about Mrs. Norris, Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch's pet cat, but she managed to creep us out, nevertheless. She was always waiting around corners to spy on students and report their forbidden, nighttime ramblings directly to Filch. Although Mrs. Norris didn't do any harm to students at Hogwarts, her creepy presence was always unsettling for students and readers alike.
Click here to buy. The Ceramic Lion in 'The Amityville Horror' by Jay Anson
There were a lot of disturbing things that reportedly happened during the events recounted in
The Amityville Horror, but one of the strangest moments centered on a ceramic lion that caused mischief for the home's residents, even going so far as to bite George Lutz on the leg. It wasn't a real "live" animal, but the ceramic lion certainly gave us all the creeps. Click here to buy. Mord in 'Borne' by Jeff VanderMeer
In Jeff VanderMeer's 2017 novel, an impossibly large, flying bear looms over the ruins of the city. That bear is Mord, and he commands an army of smaller bears, and fights other gigantic creatures, terrorizing the city with his wars and his appetites. If you're afraid of even normal-sized bears, Mord will chill you to the bone.
Click here to buy. Nag and Nagaina from "Rikki Tikki Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling
The antagonists of Rudyard Kipling's short story about a boy and his pet mongoose, Nag and Nagaina are a bonded pair of cobras, who want to kill the boy and his family. Their villainy alone is scary enough, but, as "Rikki Tikki Tavi" makes clear, Nag and Nagaina possess the skill to hypnotize their prey, animal and human alike, making them fearsome foes for both Kipling's characters and his readers.
Click here to buy.