7 Mind-Blowing Vehicles Built and Driven by Animals
We've already pointed out that animals are capable of building pretty impressive cities, but at least they're not driving around the streets in little beaver sedans and amassing armies of spider war-jets, right?
Horribly, we're not too far from that reality, either.
Spiders are among the most widespread, successful predators on Earth, though we can take comfort in the fact that at least they can't fly. Oh, except that they totally can and do.
Above: The living embodiment of a nightmare.
Many newly hatched spiders like to do something biologists have dubbed "ballooning," which basically involves building a kite out of their own webbing. A spider can catch updrafts on its "parachute" and sail anywhere from a few feet to a couple thousand miles, sometimes catching jet streams into the upper atmosphere for weeks at a time and always making sure to land directly on your face.
Well, we made that part up. They don't always manage to do that. Though spiders absolutely do routinely parasail across the country. The largest airborne spider ever recorded was still well under an inch in length, which seems like it should be comforting until you learn that thousands or even millions of spider "balloons" may get caught up in the same current and dumped over the same area like a scurrying, venomous blizzard.
Also, even tiny spiders look huge when they're dropping out of the sky and landing on your eyeball.
We've all heard of "Mexican jumping beans," but chances are you thought they were an invention of Warner Bros. cartoons. And you're sort of right. The beans themselves aren't beans. They're tiny seed pods. Also, they're not actually jumping. That would be crazy. They're being driven around like Flinstone-era pogo cars by leaping caterpillars. See, there really is a totally logical explanation for everything.
"My spinning rims are still in the mail."
The tiny moth Cydia deshaisiana lays its eggs exclusively in the pods of Sebastiana shrubs, providing every caterpillar with a well-armored house containing all the food it will ever need. Unfortunately, most caterpillars are notorious for their inability to properly install or even fundamentally understand central air conditioning, and it can get pretty stuffy in a windowless little seed. But they have another solution: When it gets too hot, it leaps around like an idiot until the "bean" lands in a cool spot.
Of course, the caterpillar has no way of knowing where it's going, and it's just as likely to bounce away from the shade of a nearby tree and right into the caldera of a volcano. But hell, when you've accumulated enough negative karma to be born as a grub forever trapped inside a seed pod, you take all the small graces you can get.
"At least I'm not homeless."
Much like a lot of the bullshit you find in the open ocean, a larvacean just looks like a gelatinous floating blob to the untrained eye. But that's just how it fools you. The actual animal is a tiny, tadpole-like critter piloting a submarine it built out of its own snot.
Even Sean Connery couldn't make this glamorous.
The tiny larvacean is a member of the tunicate or "sea squirt" family, a primitive cousin to us vertebrates. We say "primitive," but if you can't collect your sneezes and construct an elaborate harvesting machine from blobs of your own phlegm and bile, then we're really not sure which is the master race here.
It may be less than an inch in length, but its blobmobile, which scientists call a "fishing house," can be several times its size and comes with a central water intake for mobility, a rear exhaust port/escape hatch and a pair of upper intakes which divert water through two sets of mesh-like filters to sweep the ocean clean. What's more, the larvacean has to build a whole new one of these every four hours or so.
This thing doesn't just float around, either -- it's propelled by nothing more than the constant wriggling of the larvacean's spermy-looking tail, like a little mad scientist in a pedal-powered snot blimp. You go, little guy.
Phronima's Corpse Carriage
If you've read Cracked for any length of time, you may be aware of the fact that the deep ocean is a stygian nightmare world of gelatinous tentacle demons, giant mutant sea lice and lamp monsters made of teeth. So there's really no surprise that there's something down there that will hollow out your torso and use it as a mode of transport.
Using the same strategy on humans requires an exceptionally strong ice cream scoop.
Phronima is a hyperiid amphipod crustacean, which we guess is science talk for "Who left the experimental hellgate open? Everyone pretend we just discovered a new species." The female takes extensive care of her babies and protects them in a custom-built mobile nursery.
Pretty cute, you think? Hell no. First she hunts down a gelatinous, swimming animal called a salp, then chews her way inside the salp's body, eats it alive from the inside-out, then lives inside the hollow carcass with her little ones.
The horror doesn't end there, naturally. The paddling of her tiny fins pumps water through the skin's severed ends, turning it into a little submarine to easily hunt down more unsuspecting victims. The hollowed-out carcass not only serves as protection from predators, but becomes an inescapable prison to the tiny, tasty creatures mommy drags inside. It's like a lion raising its cubs inside a half-eaten rhinoceros which can also fly around and suck antelope into its ass.
"It's amazing they haven't made me the star of a Disney movie yet!"
Snail Bubble Boats
We don't think of snails as extremely mobile animals, and it's usually true, though a few have developed clever alternatives to slithering on a trail of spunk all day. One such snail is the common purple snail -- the slimiest, most spineless pirate to ever sail the high seas.
The snail begins its life as a tiny, swimming larva -- but upon maturity, it makes like a Pixar cartoon and straps its body to a raft of balloons from which it will hang upside-down for the rest of its life, riding the waves wherever they take it.
"My whole world is one giant lazy river."
There is actually a sensible reason for the snail to trade its ability to swim for the ability to really not be able to do anything at all forever. Its primary food source is the Portuguese man-o-war, another creature that just floats around on the same currents. Rather than waste time and energy swimming around in search of its victims, the snail relies on the waves to make it bump into its victim. As neither is able to move, this makes for the most boring nature documentary ever.
"And here we see the man-o-war, being way more lame than his name would suggest."
Nematodes in the genus Dictyocaulus, also known as lungworms, have a difficult task ahead of them if they want to reproduce. The appropriately-named worms live in the lungs of cows, but in order to spread their offspring, they have to get coughed up by their host, re-swallowed by the same cow, circulate through its digestive system and pop out inside a warm cow turd.
As you can imagine, Dictyocaulus doesn't get invited to the swankier nematode parties.
From there, the challenge is to get inside another cow, which is difficult because they can't move far and cows don't eat turds. How do they do it? They catch a flight on the poopspore express.
Pilobolus is a harmless dung-loving fungus faced with the same dilemma as the lungworm: It needs to get its spores from a cow's turds to a cow's mouth. To accomplish this, the fungus packs its spores on the ends of fluid-filled sacs rigged to explode in sunlight, hurtling spores into fresh, not-shit-covered grass just as hungry animals are waking up for a morning graze.
We've noticed that the phrase "fluid-filled sacs" almost never describes something good.
Lungworms, tired of relying on their stupid, lumbering hosts, have actually adapted to seek out stalks of fungus, climb up to the spore sac and strap themselves in until dawn, when thousands of the larval parasites will take off riding thousands of exploding fungi like a circus act from Stephen King's nightmares.
Fire Ant Rafts
Fire ants are one of the world's most invasive and ecologically destructive insects, owing their success to their large numbers, painful venom, persistence and aggression. The United States and Australia both have government programs in operation to exterminate the species from their shores (seriously -- think about all the species Australia allows to live).
"We'll stick with the drop bears, thank you."
It's futile, though, because not even the wrath of God can stop fire ants.
Most ant colonies are poorly prepared to deal with flooding, and can be completely wiped out by a fierce enough storm. Fire ants, however, have their own little asshole version of Noah's Ark: When the colony begins to fill with water, they gather together two of every fire ant and build a fire ant rescue boat that is also fire ants. Did we mention it's literally unsinkable?
After evacuating the colony, the ants all join hands and lock together in a huge mattress of bugs that floats away on the rising floodwaters, and while the queen and all the eggs stay safe and dry on top, those unfortunate individuals stuck on the underside remain safe due to air bubbles they keep trapped in their hairy little arms. This keeps the colony afloat so effectively that scientists are studying them to improve waterproof materials. That's right, we're trying to wipe these bastards out, but they're the ones with the superior technology.
Combine this with ballooning for enough nightmares to carry you through to 2012.
Find more from Jonathan at bogleech.
For more ways animals are better than us, check out The 9 Most Mind-blowing Disguises in the Animal Kingdom. And find out why eating Hot Pockets ain't so bad, in The 8 Most Terrifying Diets in the Animal Kingdom.
And stop by Linkstorm to check out our pimped out beaver.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infograpic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!