Nature has a habit of taking every biological function (be it reproduction or hunting for food) and infusing it with more body horror than a black and white Scandinavian film about a cannibal orgy. That's because nature and monster movies apparently have the exact same goal -- to disgust and terrify any humans who witness them. Here are five scenes from the animal kingdom more grotesque than anything Hollywood has been able to dream up.
#5. Surinam Toads Give Birth to Hundreds of Chestbursting Aliens at the Same Time
Even if you haven't seen the movie Alien (in which case you are wrong, about everything), you're probably still aware of the infamous chestburster scene, wherein a baby alien explodes from an astronaut's torso like Kool-Aid Man shoving his dick through a pumpkin.
20th Century Fox
Now, imagine if that alien burst from John Hurt's back instead, accompanied by about a hundred of its siblings. You're in luck, because that's not a movie, that's nature.
The paper-thin amphibian (paper-thibian?) you see below is a Surinam toad, a species of aquatic toad from South America that, quite frankly, looks fucking dead.
David Cannatella via wired.com
We've seen livlier Fruit Roll-Ups.
Seriously, it looks it got flattened by an 18-wheeler at a rest stop, and somebody just scraped it off the pavement and threw it in a river. But it turns out there's a good reason it looks this way, and it has everything to do with makin' babies in the grossest way possible. During the Surinam toad's 12-hour sex session, the female will squirt a hot batch of eggs onto the male's stomach. After he fertilizes those eggs like only a man can, they're transferred over to the lucky lady, who gets to carry them around on her back for four months like the steroid-born acne of a professional weightlifter.
This all could have been avoided if frogs had penises.
The eggs are snuggled into a spongy, honeycomb-like structure on the toad's back, at which point her skin grows over top of them like a slimy, corrupted pie crust. Finally, she looks like a regular-sized frog and not the undead pancake we showed you earlier.
Once the four months are up, those babies hatch with a vengeance:
The mother's still alive, though she wishes she weren't.
Yes, like tiny reanimated corpses clawing their way up from the filth of a forsaken, muddy graveyard, the fully-formed baby toads emerge from their fleshy cradles (they go from egg to tadpole to frog while safely entombed within their mother's skin, because the world is a terrifying place). After all one hundred or so of the toadlings have been expelled, the female sheds her mangled skin and returns to her normal "so flat it looks like a poorly manufactured rubber frog" state.
We can safely say that if human beings were forced to give birth by allowing our children to burst through our goddamn skin like mutant pods of overripe acne, we would've gone extinct almost immediately.
#4. The Solidus Tapeworm Makes Its Victims Kill Themselves (If They Don't Explode First)
Slither is a film about parasitic alien slugs that invade a small North Carolina town and zombify the yokels by slithering down their throats and taking over their bodies. Eventually, the victims become slug monsters themselves, and by the end of the movie everyone looks like the sun-baked interior of a dumpster behind a cosmetic surgeon's office.
Note: This movie is a comedy.
As it turns out, the movie was a cautionary tale, because mind-controlling Slither slugs are 100 percent real:
Schistocephalus solidus is a hermaphroditic, parasitic tapeworm that specializes in tormenting both fish and fish-eating seabirds, because apparently they did something to really piss off the tapeworm community somewhere along the evolutionary line. The tapeworms begin their journey by laying their eggs inside host seabirds, which helpfully poop the eggs out into the ocean. The tapeworms save their evil for a single species of fish -- Gasterosteus aculeatus, or the three-spined stickleback. Once the three-spined stickleback eats a heaping helping of the infected bird poop, the tapeworms' disgusting super power is activated.
Worms that make us lose weight suddenly seem pretty all right.
See that bulging Santa belly? That swollen gut is 100 percent tapeworms. Once the Solidus worms safely lodge themselves in a stickleback's innards, they begin to grow. And grow some more. In point of fact, the tapeworms will keep growing until the poor fish's abdomen expands to horrific proportions like a waterbed full of snakes -- oftentimes the parasites wind up outweighing their host. Imagine if a person had a gut full of tapeworms that weighed more than they did ... nevermind, Slither did the imagining for us.
Rated R for brief sexual content.
And yet, a gory fish stomach explosion almost never occurs, because tapeworms are parasites, so it's in their best interest to stay inside the fish. Notice we said "almost never," because there are exceptions.
Even though it might not explode, the fish won't survive the infestation. That's because the tapeworms manipulate it into accidentally killing itself. They do this by slowly stealing all the fish's oxygen, forcing it to swim up toward higher water where oxygen is more plentiful. Unfortunately, there's also less food up there, and the fish eventually starves to death. But now, its corpse is conveniently floating on the surface for any seabirds that happen to fly by. Once the birds eat the dead fish, they become infected with the tapeworms, which lay their eggs and begin the circle of life anew.
MPI for Evolutionary Biology
We can understand why Sir Elton left this verse out.
#3. Hawaiian Caterpillars Have a Predator Cloaking Device and Bloodlust
The Sci-Fi horror classic Predator stars a hulking invisible crab-faced space demon that uses its special cloaking ability to sneak up on people and rip their skulls out of their heads before they have any idea what's happening. The space demon also has dreadlocks, because vague racism makes everything scarier.
W. Mull /University of Hawaii
Mandibles barely beat out giant red lips in the design phase.
How could something like that possibly be more unsettling? How about if it was a camouflaged insect that ate its victims alive instead of merely pulling their bones out? Because that's exactly how the carnivorous caterpillars of Hawaii roll.
That's the Eupithecia caterpillar, paying tribute to the invisible alien that made sure that Jesse Ventura found plenty of time bleed after all. Instead of chewing on delicious screamless leaves like most caterpillars, these nightmare-fanged murder slugs prefer the shrieking flesh of ambushed victims:
Butterflies are so cute when they're babies.
Like the Predator, the Eupithecia caterpillar is a master of deception, with the ability to disguise itself as an anonymous leaf or twig until dinner comes stumbling by. Once an unsuspecting target is within range, the Eupithecia snatches it up in its horrific, eerily Predator-esque mandibles and proceeds to eat the terrifying shit out of it.
"She says the jungle ... it just came alive and took him."
In case Horrorpillar wasn't enough, there's also the Hyposmocoma molluscivora, which is the Buffalo Bill of the caterpillar world. See, the Hyposmocoma eats snails -- in fact, it's the only caterpillar currently known to science that eats any kind of shelled animal. But instead of blending into the background like the Eupithecia, the Hyposmocoma will wrap itself up in the shells of previously-digested snails and sneak up on its latest target while pretending to be a kindred spirit. That's right -- it ambushes other snails by wearing the skin of its former victims.
"Who keeps playing Goodbye Horses?"
Once it gets close enough to its prey, it ties the snail up in a silk net like a freaking spider, crawls inside the captive snail's shell, and eats it from the inside out.
Science/San Francisco Chronicle
So basically, they start dating.
So why is Hawaii the only place on Earth with horrific, meat-eating caterpillars? The answer appears to be evolution at its darkest -- since no uber-predators like ants or wasps are native to the area, these wriggling clawbeasts have simply evolved to fill the murder gap. Because you can't have a tropical paradise without scary mutant insects.