6 Insect Predators That Go Out of Their Way to Be Evil
You might think of insects as gross or scary, but you probably don't think of them as evil. After all, they're too stupid for that. Insects just trundle along and eat whatever they can find; it's not like they go out of their way to be sadistic about it.
Actually, upon closer examination, we're pretty sure they do.
Allomerus Ants Build Elaborate Torture Towers
In the past, we've given you plenty of reasons to be afraid of ants: They are intelligent, organized, adaptable and probably two-thirds into their world domination plan already. And while most of them appear content to survive on picnic scraps and discarded party food (for now), others are way more ambitious. In 2005, scientists discovered the first known traps made entirely by ants with the specific purpose of catching bigger bugs, and they look like this:
It's basically a hundred glory holes with a mousetrap inside each.
Yep, those holes are constructed to trap insect legs so that the ants can race out and slowly rip apart the victim.
That is Allomerus decemarticulatus, a species of ant in the Amazon, and their elaborate trap system is possible thanks to their relationship with a certain kind of tree. The tree provides a good habitat for the ants, and the ants keep larger insects away from the tree by tearing the shit out of anything that touches it.
The ants get to work cultivating a special type of fungus, all by themselves, and then use it to build large, hollow platforms that big insects can easily climb (otherwise, they'll just slide off the surface). These structures are dotted with hundreds of tiny holes -- and inside each hole hides an ant, waiting for an opportunity to do this:
As soon as a bug steps into their fungus trap, ants will begin grabbing its limbs and pulling them in opposite directions as they sting it to death (which, oh yeah, is a thing ants can do). Small bugs are snatched away in seconds -- the bigger ones can stay up there for hours, slowly being torn into more manageable chunks. Eventually these contraptions look like miniature versions of a medieval torture tower.
Awesome, it's whack-an-eldrich-horror-from-beyond time!
Knowing how dedicated these little bastards are, we fully expect human-sized versions of these things to start cropping up in our backyards overnight. Just know that we're on to you, you little shits.
Tiger Beetles Are Living Land Mines
Tiger beetles are exactly as badass as the first part of their name implies -- they run so fast after their prey that they're literally blinded by their own speed, moving too quickly for their eyes to gather photons. They don't just eviscerate their prey, but also the laws of physics. But those are the adult tiger beetles; we're here to tell you about their even more terrifying offspring.
Instead of chasing their prey, tiger beetle larvae take a much more subtle approach: They hide in holes in the ground and wait, essentially forming whole minefields filled with tiny versions of the sarlacc from Return of the Jedi.
There's a little regurgitated Boba Fett somewhere in there.
And then, when another insect approaches, this happens:
If ever there was a time for the sound effects guy from America's Funniest Home Videos, this is it.
They erupt from the sand like a jack-in-the-box from hell and snatch up the prey at the speed of light, dragging far bigger insects than themselves below the ground to be devoured. These things are so hardcore that they can stay down there for weeks without eating and are able to survive floods.
Oh, and just in case a bigger prey tries to drag them both away once its been locked in the beetle's jaws, the young tiger beetle also has hooks on the sides of its abdomen that anchor it to the walls of its little death hole. It's basically a living, meat-eating manhole cover that eventually grows up into the Flash, if the Flash had bones on the outside and chewed people's heads off.
Sorry, but if we had to see it, so do you.
Mantidflies Eat Spider Babies, Secretly Replace Them
Imagine you're having a child, and after taking care of its gestating form for the amount of time required by your species, it's finally time for it emerge into the world -- but when the moment arrives, a horrible mutant bug comes flying out instead, thanking you for the meal. Luckily for you, in this scenario you're a spider, so we're pretty sure you're immune to fear.
What we just described is the modus operandi of the mantidfly, which at first glance looks like the insect equivalent of a centaur or something:
And at second glance looks like a sadistic third grader glued a mantis to a wasp.
The mantidfly combines the raptorial forelegs of a mantis with the aerial hunting technique of a wasp and the utter terror of your worst nightmare. While strictly a hunter as an adult, a mantidfly begin its life as hairy, wingless grub that survives by attaching itself to a female spider where her fangs can't reach, sucking just enough blood to keep both of them alive.
Wow, it's like having an agent, only ... well, actually it's exactly like having an agent.
Oh, but that's just the beginning. The spider herself is only a stepping stone in the mantidfly's twisted life cycle; its true goal is to get its slimy claws on some succulent spider eggs, and it's willing to wait as long as it needs to to get to them (here's one that ended up waiting 44 million years). Some mantidflies even attach themselves to male spiders, wait for them to have sex, jump into the female like some sort of sentient STD and only then get to the eggs.
And then, when the spider is wrapping her offspring in a thick cocoon of silk to keep them safe, the parasite will sneakily get in there and allow itself to be wrapped with them. Once inside, the mantidfly larva mutates into a different form that feeds by sucking the unborn arachnids from their protective shells. The spider, meanwhile, has no idea that she's taking care of a baby-eating atrocity and is in for a huge surprise.
"Hi, Mom. Come give me a hug."
When it's eaten its fill, the mantidfly undergoes one final transformation into a scythe-armed terror of the skies and emerges from the cocoon. And in case you were feeling bad for the spider, the next one should help you get over that ...
Uloborid Spiders Crush Their Prey Like Garbage Compactors
Virtually all spiders known to man possess venom-injecting fangs that they use to paralyze their prey. It's the thing that makes them scary, along with the legs, and the eyes, and the everything. Uloborid spiders, on the other hand, are some of the few that have no venom, and they don't even have the ability to bite. If you think this sounds like a less frightening spider, you are seriously underestimating nature's deranged creativity.
Feel free to take out your d20 and roll a sanity check now.
Scientists had noticed for some time that these venomless spiders wrapped their prey in ridiculous amounts of silk -- up to 28,000 wrapping motions and 450 feet of the stuff to encase just a single insect. It almost seemed like they were trying a little too hard to compensate for their lameness and lack of poison. In reality, uloborids don't need poison or fangs: Their knitting abilities are deadly enough as it is.
You see, when biologist William Eberhard decided to perform tiny insect autopsies on uloborid victims, he found broken legs and caved-in faces. Though the spider weighed just 14 milligrams, its prey had been compacted into small balls by several hundred milligrams of pressure -- compare the size of this insect leg with the body of the same insect after an uloborid was done with it:
If the leg looks bruised, it's because the uloborid beat the corpse with it, just for fun.
It'd be like stuffing you into a suitcase. Silk did that. Hundreds of layers of silk, each adding a little more pressure to the suffocating bondage death cocoon. Eberhard mentions that some prey are "even killed outright" by the process, which can take over an hour. Some. Some are "even" killed. The rest presumably live long enough to regret ever saying "Haha, check out that fangless idiot -- I'm gonna go stand in its web for a while, and poop."
"Ha! Hey, guys, he's just looking at me like he's gonna MMRRRMPHH mrrmmffmfmm!"
After crushing its victim, the uloborid soaks the whole cocoon in powerful corrosive slobber, melting down the entire insect into a protein shake from hell. Sure, it might take a uloborid a little while longer to get to the part where it actually eats its prey, but it's all worth it for the satisfaction of being the most sadistic spider ever.
Epomis Beetles Eat Frogs Alive
Everyone knows that frogs eat insects, not the other way around: They just sit there all day catching bugs with their adorable slingshot tongues, if cartoons are to be believed. Well, it turns out that those cartoons have been hiding a horrifying truth from you, probably because they want you to be able to sleep at night.
We're not so considerate.
Yep, there's a type of cunning insect that feeds on nothing but amphibians many, many times its size. Beetle grubs of the genus Epomis are the first known example of what scientists are calling "obligatory role reversal," meaning that they have evolved to eat absolutely nothing else but the animals that used to eat them -- and since those animals happen to be toads and frogs, that also makes the Epomis larvae the first discovered insects that live exclusively on the flesh of vertebrates. Like you.
Today the frogs, tomorrow your face.
Biologist Gil Wizen spent more than five years studying how these insects have adapted to fight back after thousands of years of froggy oppression. First the Epomis will lure a hungry frog by wiggling its antennae like crazy, because it knows that amphibians hunt based on movement. When the frog is close enough to lash out its tongue, the bug dodges it and rams its spiky head into the frog's underbelly, making it impossible for the frog to dislodge it even as the bug turns it into dinner.
Out of the hundreds of encounters between these beetles and various amphibians witnessed by Wizen and his colleagues, every single one ended in the insect's favor -- even in cases where the frog initially had the upper hand. In one case, a beetle grub was swallowed whole by its opponent and still managed to turn the situation around. Two hours later, it emerged from the frog's mouth, attacked it and killed it:
These things have evolved to exploit the physical and psychological flaws of its former predators: The beetles move just fast enough to dodge them and know exactly how to lure them. So think twice before you step on a beetle, or we could all eventually regret it.
Perisceptis Carnivora Moths Wear Suits Made of Corpses
We all know Mother Nature can be kind of a dick, but did you know she's also a big fan of serial killer movies? That's the only way we can explain the Perisceptis carnivora, which is basically a bug version of the skin-suit guy from Silence of the Lambs.
P. carnivora are similar to bagworms, a type of caterpillar that builds itself a camouflaged coat from things like pine needles, flower petals and moss; the sort of adorable things you'd expect a caterpillar to find fashionable.
Don't be too impressed. This picture was taken way after Labor Day.
Cute, right? Well, P. carnivora do the same thing ... with body parts.
P. carnivora, you see, spend their larval stage wrapped up in a delicious taco of decomposing limbs and hollowed-out insect heads, woven together with their own silk. To other insects, it probably looks like some sort of Frankenstein monster.
"Do these eviscerated cockroaches make me look fat?"
But where does P. carnivora find so many dead insect parts? Do they just find them lying around? Nope, they're a little bit more proactive (and terrifying) than that. P. carnivora are one of the few known caterpillars that are strictly carnivorous, and once they're done eating their prey alive, they add the leftovers to their literal bodysuits. Again, this is what these bastards do when they're babies.
And as if that wasn't creepy enough, it can hunt without even moving. Anchoring its little house to a surface, it wallows day and night in its festering bag of chewed body parts, waiting patiently to spring out at flies, beetles, wasps or even spiders.
You know, whatever's "in" this season.
More from Jonathan at bogleech.com.