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Spooky Stories of the Natural World

| Olivia Kaiser

Halloween - a time for candy, costumes and scary stories of monsters, goblins and ghosts! Did you know nature has some of the best scary stories? Let’s learn about some of the creepy “monsters” lurking in the natural world!

WARNING: Readers beware as some of these stories might give you the heebie jeebies!

Zombie Ants
This monster is neither animal, nor plant. It is a fungus that uses live animals as its host. The fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralia, is found predominantly in tropical ecosystems and needs an ant host to complete its life cycle. As an ant is foraging, it may come into contact with fungal spores. Upon contact, spores consume the ants body and begin to grow inside. When the fungus is mature, it will take control of the ant’s brain and guide it to a location with suitable temperature and humidity for optimal fungi growth. The fungus will make the ant latch onto a leaf in what is known as the death grip. The ant will remain in this location for 4-10 days as it starves to death. During this time, the fungi’s fruiting body will come out of the ant’s head and release spores that later infest other unfortunate ants. Spores can lay dormant for months until the perfect host comes along.

 

Bloody Mess
The Regal horned lizard, native to Mexico and the Southwest United States, feeds primarily on ants. The ants will fight back, but these lizards are immune to ant venom allowing them to eat until they’re full. However, the lizard must be wary of coyotes looking for their next big meal. To repel their predator, the lizard will shoot blood – that’s right, blood – from their eye with the precision of a sharp shooter! The act of shooting blood is a defense mechanism to startle the coyotes and hopefully cause them to flee.

 Photo BBC.com

Cooked Alive
Japanese honey bees have mastered the use of team work to defeat their enemy, the Japanese giant hornet. The Japanese giant hornet, also known as the hornet of H-E-double hockey sticks, can dissolve human flesh with its venomous sting! OUCH. But that is no problem for the honey bees. When their hive is under attack, the bees will swarm the hornet. Instead of stinging the hornet, the bees vibrate their bodies to create heat. The collective heat reaches 117 degrees Fahrenheit causing the predator to bake to death.  

Photo ABC Science

Cannibalism
Eating your own kind has been practiced in many cultures throughout history because of religious practices or a desperate need to survive. We cringe at the idea, but there are animals, specifically the tiger shark, which use cannibalism to eliminate the weak! In utero, or in the mother’s womb, tiger sharks will eat their siblings. Only the strongest will survive and be born to swim the open waters. Talk about brutal!

Photo Viral Nova

Liquefied Flesh
Humans and animals have digestive enzymes to help break down our food. Many species of spiders, such as tarantulas, ambush their prey. They use their fangs to inject venom into their prey’s body. The prey’s insides liquefy and the spider sucks out the soupy meal, leaving behind a hollow shell. Mmmm delicious!

Photo National Geographic Kids

The Original Wolverine
Even if you haven’t seen X-Men, you’re probably aware of the iconic character Wolverine and his retractable claws. A frog from Africa known as the Horror frog breaks its own bones to create deadly stabbing weapons! The claw bone is connected to a muscle which contracts when the animal is attacked. The contraction of the muscle causes the bone to break into a sharp point, cutting through the frog’s fleshy toe pad. You don’t want to pick these frogs up with your bare hands!

Photo New Scientist

Tongue Snatcher
Imagine if your tongue was replaced by a parasite! Gross, I know, but this is the reality for some fish. The parasitic isopods consume the tongue and replace it with themselves. Luckily, the isopod assumes the position of the lost body part and continues to function like a normal tongue, allowing the fish to live a normal life with the unwanted guest.

Photo National Geographic

Monster of a Beetle
The Eastern Hercules beetle is a species of the Rhinoceros beetle that lives in the Eastern United States. The scientific name is Dynastes tityus. Rhinoceros beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica and are among the heaviest and longest beetles in the world, reaching 2-7 inches in length. These beetles are harmless, mostly feeding on decaying plant material, but the male’s prominent large horn-like pincers can startle any first time viewers. Males fight each other, using the pincers to pick up and slam their opponent to the ground! 

Photo University of Kentucky

With the exception of the Hercules beetle, none of these creatures are native to Kentucky! Whew!

Nature can be “scary”, but it’s all about the circle of life. There are many more stories to be shared, but these seven stories can help you spook up the mood on chilly campfire nights! 

About the Author

Picture of Olivia Kaiser

Olivia Kaiser

Olivia Kaiser joined The Parklands as an Interpretive Ranger in Fall 2014. In March of 2016, she was promoted to Education Specialist. She is responsible for creating and delivering interpretive programs to the public. A Kentucky native, Olivia graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Elementary Education and a concentration in Learning and Behavior Disorders. As an amateur Herpetologist and secretary of the Kentucky Herpetological Society, Olivia enjoys educating the public about reptiles and amphibians, especially venomous snakes! In her free time, she enjoys photography and road trips.

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