The Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Quick, pick three words you could put together to make the scariest possible creature!

What did you pick? “Invisible Famine Shark?” “Hivemind Sex Snake?”

I picked “Tarantula Hawk Wasp”. Let me explain.

You know tarantulas?

The huge, hairy tank versions of spiders that use their giant freaky legs to overpower birds and mice and then eat them alive?

The tarantula hawk is a 2-inch long monster wasp that hunts tarantulas and lays eggs in them for its babies to eat.

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And like all skilled, terrifying killers, it has a fierce sense of style.

The worst part? The tarantula is alive the whole time.

See, the tarantula hawk is one of the serial killers of the animal world – parasitoid wasps. A parasite lives off its host and harms it in some way… A parasitoid lives off its host and always kills it.

It’s the difference between having a tick on you and having an alien chestburster inside you, and the tarantula hawk definitely falls somewhere on the chestburster end of the scale.

Ruthless, huge, and ridiculously well-armed, the tarantula hawk stalks its prey from above, using far superior maneuverability to outpace and cut off the spider’s escape route, before landing and grappling with it using special hooked claws on its legs, like the horror-movie monster it is.

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This giant, terrifying spider is absolutely, completely fucked.

The wasp then jabs in with a stinger a full third of an inch long, injecting the spider with venom that paralyses it in moments. That sting, by the way, is the second-worst in the world for pain, and hospitalises dozens of people in the US every year, after the wasp presumably developed a taste for succulent human flesh.

The spider is then dragged to the wasp’s murder burrow and thrown to the bottom of it, where the wasp lays its eggs and then seals the burrow, trapping its victim in the dark, paralysed.

With the eggs.

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This is the last sight of many, many tarantulas.

They’re found in the southern US and in the fever-dreams of H. R. Giger, and are the official state insect of New Mexico, a state which I am now considerably more wary of.

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And it seemed like such a nice place before.

So if we’re gonna recap: a paralysing, hook-clawed flying Alien that drags bloody tarantulas into a pit in the ground and leaves them there to be eaten alive by their larvae.

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But it fits in your hand, which is nice.

Sweet dreams, guys.

Dan

(image credit for Image 1 – http://www.madolino.com, Image 2 – http://www.nps.gov, Image 5 – bugman123.com)

Alligator Snapping Turtles

Ok, so you’re a fish. Nothing mental or big, just, like, a minnow or something. You’re chilling in your river, looking for food, when you spot a tasty little worm in the mud.

“This looks both harmless and delicious.” – Fish

Then, just when you’re close enough to grab it, BAM. You’ve been cut in half. No warning, no chance to escape, just one second tasty worm, the next second dual guillotine fatality. You got Alligator Snapping Turtled.

The Alligator Snapping Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world, and looks very much like the offspring of a tyrannosaurus, an armoured personnel carrier, and one of those unsettling staple removers with the jaws.

You know the ones I mean.

It can be found in fresh water all over the south-eastern United States, sitting on the bottom of rivers, lakes, ponds and swamps with its mouth open, daring things to try to catch that worm.

The worm lure is an appendage on its tongue – as even the inside of its mouth is heavily camouflaged, it can lie in wait with its mouth open without risking detection. The “worm” is an example of aggressive mimicry, where predators imitate something harmless or appealing to prey, to put their prey at ease or draw them closer. The angler fish’s glowing lure is the most famous example of this, but that thing where your boss pretends to be a customer is an equally scary and devious human example.

Alligator Snappers have been recorded at up to 113kg (249lb, or “two-thirds-again as heavy as me”) and can bite through broom handles. In the wild, they eat anything they can get their scaly mitts on, predominantly fish (living and scavenged), other turtles, water birds, amphibians, snakes, molluscs… The list goes on. Larger snappers even drag down aquatic rodents, swimming mammals such as armadillos, and small alligators.

Here’s a picture of an adorable newborn, which one day hopes to tear the bottoms out of canoes and eat the explorers within.

They are estimate to be able to live from 120 to 200 years, but no-one really knows how long they can keep going in the wild. So, if all else fails, if you won’t take the worm bait, if you won’t swim near by, if their extendible neck and lightning-fast scissor jaws are too slow for you… That’s ok. The Alligator Snapping Turtle will just wait. It’s got time.

“See you soon.”

Dan

(images taken from – image 1 – maxresdefault, youtube.com: image 2 – austinsturtlepage.com: image 3 – http://www.theonlinecentral.com: image 4 – http://www.drunkonblue.com)

Goblin Sharks

The Goblin Shark is weird. We might as well get that out of the way now.

For starts, it looks like this:

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“I should not be.”

That pasty, off-white eel/shark abomination has been caught in all three major oceans, but is most frequently pulled up off the coast of Japan, because all deep-sea horror creatures are drawn to Japan like eldritch aquatic moths to a particularly monster-prone lightbulb.

It generally lives about a mile below the surface, where there has never been any light, but it can also be found beneath the beds of other sharks, waiting to jump out and scare them. A goblin shark tooth has even been found lodged in a deep-sea cable at a depth of 1,370m (4,490ft), indicating that they may range all the way down to the watery tomb of the Elder Gods, and also that they want to destroy our tasty, tasty cables.

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And therefore lure down our tasty, tasty cable repairmen.

It’s usually between 3m and 4m long (or “double the size of a grown human”), but don’t worry, its long, top-heavy tail fin and flabby body indicate that it’s pretty sluggish and slow moving (except for its jaws, which can extend out of its face really, really fast).

The goblin shark’s hunting strategy (which, amazingly, does not involve making scary faces) makes use of that ridiculous nose as a sort of metal detector, since the nose is absolutely packed with sensors which can detect the electric currents of a prey animal’s nervous system. Like, you know, the heartbeat.

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“Let’s play hide and seek!”

These electrical sensors are called ampullae of Lorenzini, and most sharks have them, but a few species have adapted to make exceptional use of them. The other sharks to do this are hammerheads, which now look far more cuddly than they did before I started researching their deep-sea surfboard-nosed cousin.

The weird heads are used the same way – like sweeping metal detectors, swung from left to right to scan for living things. The hammerhead is scanning for fish and crabs buried in the mud – the goblin shark is scanning for things it can’t see in the black abyss it calls home. Even animals buried in the sand or concealed by ink clouds can be caught with the use of that inescapable snout.

Once the (presumably horrified) prey is detected, the real horror show can begin: the goblin shark’s jaws extend out from its head like some sort of grabber arm designed by H.R Giger, and snatch the victim in hundreds of thin, nail-like teeth. At the same time, the shark’s throat and gills expand outwards, opening a cavernous black hole in the universe and creating a vacuum that sucks the prey in, making escape almost impossible.

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This animal disproves the existence of a loving God a thousand times over.

Due to the depths it lives at, its diet of deep-sea fish and its thin, needle-like teeth, it is believed to pose no threat to humans. However, since they are double your size and there is most definitely going to be one lurking in your dreams tonight, I’m sure that’s going to be small comfort to you now.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Dan

(credit for image 1 – Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria: image 2 – http://www.sharksider.com: image 3 – http://www.greengoblin.com: image 4 – “Alien Sharks”, Discovery Channel)