Not long ago we looked at the most horrifyingly diabolical predators in nature, creatures that had raised murder to an exquisite art.
What we have also found, however, is that they have to be smart for a reason. Some of their prey have come up with tricks to avoid capture that would put a even supervillain to shame.
#8. The Hognose Snake Stages Its Own Murder
The hognose snake is venomous, so you might think that's all the defense it'd need. The problem is it only has small fangs at the back of its mouth, so you'd only have to worry about a hognose bite if it was deep-throating you and we're guessing you gents have already tossed caution to the wind when you're taking that for a run.
To compensate for this cruel twist of design, they have developed a defense strategy that takes "playing possum" to a bizarre, mind-boggling level. These things fake their own murder, and with such detail that they could fool the CSI crew.
Yes, like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, the hognose snake knows when it's opportune to fake being dead. In the animal kingdom, it's typically done because certain predators will avoid carrion, but lots of mammals and birds of prey have no such qualms about dead snakes. It's just that the hognose snake attacks the role with such vigor that no one has the heart to tell it the truth.
It will convulse wildly, flip over on to its back and lie nearly motionless even when prodded. The hognose death-stagger is so overwrought that even Jim Carrey's directorial notes advise dialing it back.
In some cases it accompanies the performance with a lolling tongue and--get this-- will even spew blood from its mouth and anal openings.
It is so dedicated to the role that if reset on to its stomach, it will immediately flip over to its back. What it lacks in an understanding of death it certainly makes up for in commitment.
Even weirder, when finally forced to fight, the hognose snake will imitate a cobra. It'll flatten out the skin on its neck, and even coil and strike (remember, its lack of fangs make striking useless--it's all for show).
We say it's weird because they don't live on the same continent as cobras, aren't directly related to them and there's no fossil evidence that they ever crossed paths. It's imitating behavior it's never seen in person, so we have to assume they just saw a cobra on TV at some point.
#7. Dresser Crabs Wear People Clothes
The dresser crab has two primary missions: to survive long enough to pass along its genome and to be absolutely FABULOUS.
Lots of animals can obscure themselves using pigments and mimicry, but the dresser crab bests them all with its knowledge of accessorizing. As it moves through varied environments, it scans the ground for any objects it can attach to velcro-like patches on its exoskeleton to best match the surroundings.
Should it sense danger--or the opportunity to vamp--it will freeze dead in its tracks and flawlessly, sassily merge into the background.
Other species in the majidae family are known for using hooks in their shells to attach long strands of seaweed for cover. We know what you're thinking: Could we stick one of these in a tank full of jewels and shit and watch them confusedly dress themselves up like drag queens? Hell yes:
Notice in the video how the crab automatically gravitates towards the pearls. It may be somewhat gauche to wear multiple strands in evening wear; but to survive in the desolate landscape of a sunken ballroom, caution must be thrown to the tides.
#6. Dinoflagellates Practice Mutually Assured Destruction
We don't like to criticize dinoflagellates (their fans get vicious in the comments) but their defense mechanism appears to be the worst idea in the world.
Any sharp motion in the vicinity will immediately trigger a near-blinding flash of light that shines through their entire body. In the presence of a plankton-eating creature, this bioluminescence would seem to serve all the survival utility of bringing a glowstick-twirling raver on a big cat safari. So why do it?
The light may well betray their position, but it's also their way of screaming "Eat me!" in the most derogatory sense possible. The thing about predators of dinoflagellates is that they themselves are prey to larger predators, and so on. So the dinoflagellates predator may devour them, but with the sudden flash of light announcing it, the predators have now been illuminated to larger predators in the vicinity.
Even after the dinoflagellate has been consumed, the predator's motion will continue to usher forth bursts of light. For largely transparent creatures like certain shrimp, this is like slapping a road flare on its chest and attaching dinner bells to each foot.
It's a Mutually Assured Destruction scheme that's simultaneously brilliant and dickish.
#5. The Vampire Squid is Terrifying and Lazy
The vampire squid lives way down in the parts of the sea where barely any light can reach, as a creature called a vampire squid would. That's why the black variety of this squid are only visible in our nightmares, and navigate via the terrified screams of approaching fish.
The more common, and almost as horrifying, red vampire squid calls upon defense techniques that are equal parts cunning and bizarre.
First, it pulls the webbing connecting each tentacle over its head, revealing a hood of formidable looking spines. These fleshy protrusions are actually about as imposing as a koosh ball, not unlike the vampires of the Twilight series, but it's a good bluff.
In the poorly lit surroundings this exposed black underbelly also cloaks the squid for a retreat, which it would totally do if hadn't just eaten. It doesn't want to get cramps, you know? So instead of running, it illuminates photophores set behind its eyes and slowly contracts them, giving the illusion of shrinking into the distance.
Let us emphasize that it doesn't actually run away. It is so profoundly lazy that it is already conserving energy for all of the floating it will be doing later. That's like evading a knife-wielding maniac by doing one of those "walking down fake stairs" tricks before curling up and taking a nap behind the couch.