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This time on Nightmarish Nature we are examining wasps. Wasps are truly terrifying, and not just because some of them sting or are aggressive, though those are often the first ones we think of because we as humans come in conflict with them more directly. No, wasps are extremely varied and some are just outright bizarre… stinging doesn’t even begin to touch on the worst horrors they can inflict.

Two wasps terrorize a spider with though bubble "Truly terrifying"
Wasps terrorize a spider

Now many wasps are actually very helpful to us humans. They act as pollinators and keep pests under control. But if you are another insect, especially a large or fleshy one bulking up, watch out. An encounter with the wrong wasps can mean an untimely and horrible death. A few wasp species will disassemble and eat insects bit by bit but that’s just the start of it, others do even more sinister things.

There are parasitic wasps that will lay their eggs in or on a host insect, like a large beetle, a cicada, a spider or a big juicy caterpillar – there’s pretty much a wasp for everything… A female may sting said insect to subdue it while she acts out her nefarious plans for the next generation (I once watched a spider hanging out in an outdoor potted plant whose fate was sealed, unaware of the horror that awaited it as a female wasp flitted on and around it, stinging and laying eggs before flying off again). Different wasps have different host insects and strategies for this, but the result is pretty much the same. Essentially, when the wasp’s eggs hatch, the larva will eat the creature from the inside out, either saving its vital organs for last or waiting until the time is right.

Wasp stinging spider with thought bubble "This can't be good..."
Wasp stinging spider

Caterpillars are especially susceptible to this in all stages of development: egg, caterpillar and pupa. Some species of wasps will lay eggs among caterpillar eggs, others will lay them within the caterpillar eggs, and still others will target the caterpillar itself, or even its pupa. Most build upon the host’s voracious appetite and ability to grow in mass so quickly, waiting until the opportune time to engage in their own frenzy of consumption. Some wasps will even target other wasps that target caterpillars, and this can go like four layers in – it’s like Inception level consumption from within.

Caterpillar says, "I am BIG and JUICY"
Caterpillar

And weirder still is the mutualism found between fig trees and very small wasp species. Both are dependent upon one another for their reproductive cycle to be complete. It’s very complicated and I won’t do justice to the cycle trying to explain it, so I recommend that you check it out here on the US Forest Service site.

Anyway to make a long story short, eating figs can even result in eating wasps. Crunch. Crunch. It isn’t actually all that terrifying though; the fig breaks down much of that matter (especially from the original female insect) to use itself as it ripens. And honestly a lot more foods contain insect parts than you may be comfortable with already, they’re pretty much in everything… So that horror aside, the coevolution of figs and wasps that has gotten them to this point is really quite remarkable.

Thinking of figs... and wasps... and cookies...
Thinking of figs

Wasps are truly extraordinary. Many species are super specialized in their life and reproductive cycles. There are over 900 species of fig wasps alone, each dedicated to a different species of fig tree. And the parasitic wasps are also very specialized, with different species targeting different hosts at different stages of their development.

Wasps swarming or something, there's like five of them all flying around
Wasps

If you have enjoyed reading about wasps here in Nightmarish Nature but missed previous segments, feel free to check out Vampires Among Us; Perilous Parenting; and Freaky Fungus.

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Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons

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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.

Tongue-tied Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Tongue-tied…

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…

All about the spit Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
All about the spit…

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.)

"Hey baby..." You look good enough to eat shark drawing by Jennifer Weigel
“Hey baby…” You look good enough to eat

If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

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Reindeer Give Pause

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Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause

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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.

Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go

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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.

Vampire Deer

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…

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"Vampire" musk deer drawn by Jennifer Weigel
“Vampire” musk deer

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:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

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Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades ?

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

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Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades

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OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…


The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort.  It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet.  She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order.  She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise.  No matter.  She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention.  What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…

Cozmic debris don't die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Cozmic debris don’t die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.

Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature, drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.

And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole exploring True Facts, my favorite episodes of all time are Pangolin’s Posse and Freaky Nudibranchs. Help the Bats is also a fave.

To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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