We all know nature can be brutal, but some creatures employ far more twisted methods of predation than simply being bigger, faster, and stronger than their prey. The following creatures don’t secure their meals by tooth and claw, but rather by intricate trickery and sickening miracles of evolution that make the Saw movies look like rom-coms.
(Note: May not be appropriate for readers who are about to eat lunch or who have faith that there is good in the world.)
The margay cat of Central and South America ensures a full belly by taking brutal advantage of good samaritans. After finding a secure hiding spot, the margay will make high-pitched chirping sounds that mimic the cries of a baby pied tamarin. Assuming the sounds may be from one of their own youngsters, the sentinels of a particular tamarin community will instinctively go off to investigate. Upon pinpointing the cries, the tamarins soon realize that they are the ones in trouble when the distressed baby monkey turns out to be 10 lbs of death. (10 lbs is a lot when you weigh 1 lb). Moral of this story: Never help a child in need. You could get eaten.
Tentacled Water Snake
Even in the most predator-heavy environments, a good flight response usually ensures that you’ll live to see another day. But for the prey species of the tentacled water snake, it is their rapid retreat from danger that seals their doom time and again. When this cunning serpent wants fresh sushi, it will go underwater and position itself in a C-shape. When a fish passes through the opening of the C, the snake will move its tail slightly, creating a vibration in the water column. Using its multi-million year old flight response, the fish immediately bolts in the opposite direction of the movement, which is directly into the jaws of the snake. In this way, the oft-rewarded “I’M OUTTA HERE!” reaction is severely penalized.
The Digger Wasp
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae…” – Charles Darwin.
Though Charles Darwin was a devout Christian, the digger wasp’s method of predation is so sadistic that it made him question his own faith in a benevolent God. One look at how this little demon provides sustenance for its young will explain why. The digger wasp has developed a special venom which does not kill its victims but rather paralyzes them so they can stay alive for a most gruesome purpose. Once paralysis takes hold, the victim is carried to the wasp’s underground lair where it lays in waiting aside the wasp’s eggs. When the wasp larva hatch, they have a fresh handicapped caterpillar or moth to feast on right away. If that’s not motherly love, we don’t know what is.
The Pitcher Plant
Sadistic means of acquiring dinner are not limited to the animal kingdom. Typically, a plant will offer sweet nectar to an insect in the hopes that the visitor will carry some of the plant’s pollen off with it and fertilize surrounding plants. But the pitcher plant lures insects to a deep-pitted, concave leaf that looks and smells much like a nectar-filled flower. Unfortunately for the insect, the edges of this pitcher are so slippery that upon inspecting the appetizing nectar, the insect falls in and becomes stuck in the fluid. The critter then drowns in what turns out to be not nectar, but a special death juice which breaks bodies down into a four course meal of essential minerals for the plant to absorb.
The most brutal form of predation belongs to neither a plant nor an animal, but a fungi. The many varieties of cordyceps fungi infect their hosts not just to eat them, but to turn them into zombie slaves. Upon infecting an insect, the cordyceps will release chemicals into its brain which tell it to travel to a location that is optimal for the fungus’ growth. Once the zombified host has found a spot that suits their master, the fungus sucks the animal dry of nutrients and sends spires of spore-laden tentacles through the insect’s body and up into the air. These spires will eventually burst open and start another round of terror onto the insect world. And you thought The Walking Dead was gross?
So next time you think us humans are the only animals who are capable of committing evil, just remember these little demons.
HT: Landes Bioscience, Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science, Journal of Insect Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Wildlife Conservation Society