We all know that nature is mankind's archnemesis, all scheming down there in its volcano lair, nursing a mad murderection for all of humanity. But we often forget that man is an apex predator, and we get to play the survival game on easy level. As many unimaginable horrors as Mother Nature enjoys throwing at us, there are other, less fortunate animals out there who live their entire lives hunted by the kind of creatures that make horror movie villains pale in comparison.
#5. The Monster Next Door
Jim Rorabaugh via Reptiles of Arizona
Everybody likes Jeff. He's such a cool guy! He's always up for a good time, he knows the best bars, he offers to give people a ride home if they've had too much to drink. But lately, you've been noticing something: Everybody who leaves with Jeff ... never comes back. Now, we know what you're thinking, but surely that's crazy. This is Jeff, right? You've known the dude since kindergarten -- he's the best! He's Jeff, Jeffy, Jeffman, the Jeffreak! He's not, he couldn't be ... a monster ... could he?
That's exactly what the spadefoot toad tadpole is wondering right now.
Before its graduation to frogginess, the entire existence of a spadefoot toad tadpole is a monster-next-door horror flick. By nature, they're cool and lucid little guys, subsisting on the algae they find on the bottom of a pool of water. However, their youth is spent in one small, often quickly drying puddle in the middle of a desert. They need to grow legs and a whole host of internal organs in a hurry, before the puddle dries and the sun scorches them. There's precious little time for them to grow up, and equally little food for the energy required. That's why some of the tadpoles take a look at their surroundings, say "Screw this noise," and go full horror.
They start out small, experimenting with eating a bit of meat by munching on the tiny shrimp that also occupy the pond. Within days, they graduate with honors from Carnivore College and begin their transformation from Tadpole Jekyll to Froggy Hyde. They grow much faster than their algae-chomping counterparts, and their jaws get bigger and stronger. Their digestive tracts shorten in preparation for an all-meat diet, and their tails grow more powerful. Within a week, the normal tadpoles have mutated into 'roided up monsters.
Which is when the cannibalism begins.
These killer tadpoles now see anything that moves as food, up to and very much including their own kin. And they couldn't stop even if they wanted to -- they are slaves to their hunger. It's like some sort of gypsy curse: forced to keep eating meat, any meat, family meat, or they'll quickly revert back to their smaller, weaker state and fall prey to the other monsters.
The weaker tadpoles are essentially powerless. They're almost a whole different animal. They're just down there, sucking algae at the bottom of the pond, thinking all is well, and then Jeff comes over to borrow a cup of sugar ...
National Wildlife Foundation
"Nice liver. Mind if I borrow it?"
#4. The Seductive Monster
Ah, we've all been there. You hit up a bar and find some hottie drunk enough to overlook your glaring personality flaws. You really start to hit it off, and then it turns out she's a giant demon that is eating your face oh God not the face you need that face to live!
No? In that case, congratulations! You are not a male cicada (we're sure you're very proud of your remarkable achievement).
In order to secure a mate, cicada males sing complicated seduction songs. If the female cicadas are, to put it technically, "down to clown," they respond with a specific set of clicking noises. It's a simple, fairly reliable deal. But just like every one of your drunken bar crawls carries the danger of waking up next to a fat dude named Loogie, the cicada mating ritual has its risks. Occasionally, the male cicada will hear a hot little female clicking and snapping all sexily and rush to the source, only to discover that he's been seduced by a massive predatory monster. Possibly named Loogie.
The monster in question is called the spotted predatory katydid, and yes, of course it hails from Australia. It employs a particularly dickish variation of aggressive mimicry, having developed a knack for recognizing the subtle nuances of a male cicada's boning song. It replies to these calls with spot-on imitations of the "Come get me, hunk" reply clicks of a female. Upon hearing what he perceives as a sultry siren's call to action, the male throws caution to the wind and rushes to meet his girl out in the old abandoned barn, only to find out -- surprise! -- it's a guy with a hockey mask and a machete. The katydid then grabs its unlucky suitor, bites a chunk out of his head to stop the struggling, and eats the rest of the body whole.
D. Marshall and K. Hill
The only 100 percent effective protection is abstinence, but who are we kidding?
Leave it to Australia to invent murder by cockblocking.
#3. The Evil That Eats You from the Inside
Picture a jolly termite going about his termite business -- crawling around, eating wood, shooting poison glue at enemies from his terrifying face-gun (oh, you didn't know they did that?). He may not be the biggest badass of the animal kingdom, but if your list of prey includes one guy with a face-gun and a bunch of dudes without face-guns, you'll probably opt to mess with the latter. So the termite's life is relatively stable.
"Live, love, shoot things with a face-gun. Just another day on the job."
One day, ol' Freddy Face-Gun notices a weird pile of gunk that seems strangely irresistible, yet somewhat ... off. Being a termite and thus lacking in the art of self-restraint, he shrugs, strolls over, and eats his fill of the delicious swill that should not be. Full and content, he heads home to tell his friends about the awesome, if somewhat disconcerting new food source he found!
Now, fast forward a bit. Freddy Face-Gun (who we hope nobody got too attached to -- we shouldn't have named him, should we?) is now a festering mass of horror and devastation, as what turned out to be his last meal is growing out of his body and devouring not only him, but his entire colony.
Paul Stamets via American Chemical Society
"Wasn't I just saying that Freddy would be the one to bring about the apocalypse? Mike, what'd I say?"
Said colony is just one of the many that have fallen victim to Metarhizium anisopliae, a peculiar fungus that kills insects in the most gruesome manner possible. In its dormant form, M. anisopliae is the Baconator of the insect world: It is unnatural, even unholy, and yet they still eat it -- presumably because it's 2 a.m. and they're drunk on little termite-beers.
A few hours, days, or even weeks pass without incident -- and then shit goes all Pinocchio and starts getting real. The spores that have been sitting dormant in the termite's body suddenly germinate. The fungus starts burrowing through the softer bits of the exoskeleton while eating the helpless insect from the inside out. Imagine you're a termite, just hanging around, all confident in your full suit of armor, staring people down with a gun that is also your face, when suddenly, the Double Down you ate a month ago starts spewing battery acid in your stomach and eating you right back.
Rob Graham and Jon Darbo, via Discover Magazine
"DAMN YOU, COLONEL!"
And of course it doesn't end with the death of just one termite. The delay effect in M. anisopliae means that the insect is back at its colony when the fungus starts to consume it. This was the fungus' intention all along. After consuming "patient zero," it uses the drained corpse as a base of operations and releases more spores into the vicinity, murdering everything that ventures near -- again, much like your bathroom the day after 10 PBRs and two Baconators -- until eventually, the entire colony is nothing but hollow, cracked exoskeletons.
By the way, science has recognized the destructive and repellent properties of the fungus and is looking into ways to employ it as a pesticide. So get a termite infestation, and this thing will soon be calmly sprayed into your house by surly dudes with prominent butt cracks. Don't be concerned: There's certainly no indication that M. anisopliae is harmful to humans. But then again ... isn't that exactly what the termites thought at first?