Returning to our new series on Nightmarish Nature, last time we looked at some Vampires Among Us. This time we will consider some Perilous Parenting…
I’m not going to go into reproductive habits among the natural world. Some of that is outright horrifying too, at least in terms of our human-normative perspective. Yeah, angler fish have attachment issues. Spiders & mantids are totally safe word averse, courting death as much as sex. And ducks are more than kind of rape-y. But rape is still NOT our sponsor and this isn’t intended to be an R- or X-rated segment. So instead we’re going to skip right to parenting perils…
Parenting is inherently scary for first-timers seeing as how there’s no instruction manual or anything that comes along with the new role. And now you’re responsible for a totally new little critter knowing that a lot of its mental & emotional baggage issues will start with you. It’s a huge responsibility, and some creatures have developed some fascinating strategies to deal with raising their young before sending them off in the world. (As opposed to those who just let the kids fend for themselves starting out completely on their own, that’s a different kind of horror.)
There are parents who die for their offspring, like octopus. There’s the sort of devotion that comes from sealing mom in a tree to sit on the eggs, relying solely on dad to feed her (hornbills) or from having all the dads huddle together for survival, holding their eggs on his feet to keep the babies alive during the harshest winter ever (Emporer penguins). And there’s the kind of cuteness that comes from having pouches, like kangaroos and sea horses, which are totally not the same for oh so many reasons, but both still kinda adorable in their own ways. (Remember, it’s not just moms but dads too.)
Where This Gets Horrific / Trypophobia Warning
But I think the most terrifying parenting horror stories for me are those things that trigger trypophobia or worse. Oh by the way, if you are afraid of or disgusted by clusters of slightly varied objects, you might want to sit the rest of this segment out. In fact don’t even keep reading, just go back to thinking about cute things with pouches, like good designer handbags (so hard to find these days).
So I’m going to look at this first from the plant world. A coworker once brought in a mother-of-millions plant to work to share around, which was the first time I encountered the species. Now these aren’t your spider plants which send off little offspring on stalks to start anew a ways off. Oh no. These succulents form little tiny baby plants along the edges of their leaves that fall off and start growing beside themselves. Some make it, some don’t (competition for resources when you’re all living literally on top of each other can be harsh, but you’re obviously in a great location so why not share the bounty?) That doesn’t sound so bad until you remember the “millions” part of this. These plants can be very very VERY prolific. Think rabbits on steroids but a couple orders of magnitude on steroids, so more like bugs or fish or something. The sheer quantity of it honestly kind of creeps me out, so needless to say I did NOT adopt one of my coworker’s plants.
Bugs and Aquatic Life and Baby Central
Moving on, as mentioned, lots of bugs and water critters breed like rabbits on steroids on steroids, so they are kind of naturally prone to the whole trypophobia thing, though a lot of them are also pretty hands off. There’s those jumpy fish who let the babies swim in their mouths for safety at the slightest sign of danger, which is both creepy and cute and so a little bit spoopy in my opinion. And spiders and scorpions will carry lots and lots of tiny babies on their backs. Tiny baby spiders are also known to balloon en masse on little strands of silk to drift on the wind to new homes where they can forge their own lives, hoping to land in primo locations and not someplace uninhabitable. (Please oh please let me drift to the penthouse suite and not the dump…)
But the one that really takes the cake in my book is the surinam toad. They’re kind of weirdly flat creepy looking creatures in all the good, bad, ugly categories to start with. You know, perfectly suited to being mistaken for leaves in the mud by both predators and food. But their parenting style gets even weirder than their physical appearance. So, the male toad will entice a female to mate with him and then shovel their fertilized eggs on to mom’s back to be absorbed into her skin when it grows around them, kind of like bubble wrap. And then, when the time is right, the true horror begins…
Surprise! They all pop out, with all of the babies literally erupting from little tiny holes in mom’s flesh. Let that sink in a minute. I’ll repeat in greater detail in case you weren’t listening. Mom develops the fertilized eggs under her skin in these little pockets on her back through all beginning life stages, from hatchlings to tadpoles to fully formed froglets, until it’s time two to three months later, when she births LOTS of little baby toads. The tiny toads literally erupt from beneath mom’s skin to swim to the surface and fend for themselves. She then molts and starts the cycle anew.
Just, no, I can’t even… So that’s it, I’m done for now. I’ll leave you with that image burned into your psyche as your last impression of this segment of Nightmarish Nature. Until next time…
Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we will look into zombie snails, because we were having so much with the Whore Snails recently. So this is a lot like the Freaky Fungus except that this time it’s a parasitic worm that is the cause of the horror… Leucochloridium paradoxum, the green-banded broodsac worm, forces snails to be a part of its nefarious plans to take over the world (well, really more just continue on keeping on in its strange and bizarre life cycle).
This Is What We Get for Eating Poop
The worm, which spends much of its life as a parasite in birds’ digestive systems, is part of a weird cycle that includes both birds and snails, though the snail end is much creepier. It starts when a snail ingests worm eggs in bird droppings. These eggs hatch into worm larvae that eventually turn the poor hosts into zombie snails! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The worm larvae work their way up into the snails’ brains and take over, hijacking them on suicide missions to continue their own life cycle. These worm larvae eventually grow large and worm their way into the poor snail’s eye stalks, pulsing and throbbing therein to resemble maggots or other tasty treats.
The worms use the zombie snails to get into their bird hosts by mind-controlling them into climbing out of the shady undergrowth where they will be easily spotted by bird predators which will feed on them, ingesting the eye stalks and continuing the worm’s life cycle as it gets into the bird’s digestive tract. The huge, bulging eye stalks are irresistible to birds looking to snatch maggots and other delicious delicacies. Eventually, after the worms are well ensconced in its bird hosts, the bird poops out more worm eggs for unsuspecting snails to ingest, completing the cycle.
You can watch this in action on Nat Geo Wild: World’s Deadliest here, if you dare. Warning, it’s a little gross but not near so much as some of the other topics we’ve covered. If you enjoyed this slimy segment of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we are considering Komodo Dragons. These awesome lizards are the largest in the world and are native to Indonesia. The lizards don’t get to be full-sized without feasting on a lot of meat and are known to prey on animals notably larger than themselves, even including deer and water buffalo. But honestly, they pretty much eat anything they can get a hold of, including smaller Komodo Dragons.
Beyond Bad Breath
If you’ve ever wondered just how far really bad oral hygiene can take you, then look no further. Although the Komodo lacks the bite strength to employ strangulation as an attack strategy, like crocodiles do, it is a dangerous and formidable hunter. Long assumed to be the result of bacterial infection, Komodo bites are outright deadly, and this is in part due to their thick viscous saliva. It’s all about the spit, ’bout the spit, that trouble. Eat your hearts out, Rottweilers, you ain’t got nothing on this.
And Komodo Dragons rend their victims’ flesh with serrated teeth and saw into the muscle, adding to the wounds’ ability to fester. Because of course they do. If you want to see some horrifying pictures of how this plays out, you can read about it in this NIH National Library of Medicine account of a zookeeper attack and recovery, complete with full color images not for the feint of heart. Just wow, what a meaty mess…
Bacteria Versus Venom
It has more recently been shown that Komodos, like other Monitor lizards, actually do possess venomous saliva, and that this can inhibit clotting and cause blood loss, paralysis, and extreme pain, symptoms previously believed to result from bacterial infection. It’s possible that their bite contains some of both, and in reality the why doesn’t matter so much as the ewww factor.
So regardless of whether there is venom or bacteria at play, a Komodo Dragon’s bite is nasty nasty. Like you don’t want any part of those so-called love nips, even more so than with sharks. (Side tidbit: male sharks have a propensity for biting during mating, so female sharks’ hides are thicker to withstand this sort of engagement. In fairness, sharks use their teeth to explore the world around them, so this comes as no surprise really.)
If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause
So reindeer aren’t generally thought of as all that scary, unless you have elafiphobia. But since it is the holiday season and they are among the most celebrated animals this time of year, here are some fun facts about reindeer and their deer kin that are weird and even a bit creepy.
Female reindeer also have antlers and continue to grow them during Christmastime, whereas the males shed theirs in November. So the antlered reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are girls.
Some reindeer make a clicking sound as they walk so they can stay together as they travel through adverse weather. Better than yelling “Marco” (or “Polo” in response) around every bend…
Deer have very good night vision and reindeer can even see ultraviolet light, which helps them to spot predators and find food in the arctic. Speaking of food, deer have been known to gnaw on bones or flesh (including that of humans) and even eat small animals like birds and mice.
Some deer species, like Musk Deer, grow fang-like tusks instead of antlers, making them appear vampirish. They use their tusks like other deer use their antlers, with males fighting one another during breeding season. Tusks also come in handy when foraging for food and fending off predators. Plus they really up the deer’s Goth presence…
And if you’re into teeth, upper canines among whitetail deer are rare and have been highly prized. They’ve even been incorporated into prehistoric necklaces and royal jewelry, ‘cause teeth used as decorative accents are always a bit macabre.
Previously on Nightmarish Nature
So there are some fun, somewhat creepy facts about deer. If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Oh, and in the spirit of the holidays, here’s the reindeer’s top pick for a Christmas song, Must Be Santa as sung by Bob Dylan…