Welcome to ARKive’s Blog of Bleurgh. That’s right people – animals and plants aren’t all the white knights they’re often made out to be. “Chum” from Finding Nemo had it right – cute, clappy dolphins just aren’t cool. Compare them to his species – a mako shark. An awesome predator and one of the fastest fish in the ocean. No competition, really.
So, are you tired of cute and fluffy animals taking the limelight? Your search for the real, unadulterated, potentially horrifying side of the natural world is over – but your understanding of why nature can be so beautiful in the way it adapts and makes a living by being utterly horrifying, is only just beginning…
Cannibalism (the eating of one’s own species) is rife in the animal kingdom – sometimes the need for survival is so great that one has to turn on one’s own kind. Or sometimes its just part of a mating ritual, like one of the most well-known cannibals of all, the black widow spider. After mating with the male, the female black widow makes a habit of eating her partner. Nice.
There’s no easy way to introduce this – eating faeces. This is most commonly seen in herbivores, for two reasons:
- Eating one’s own poo gives inefficient digesters of plants a second chance at gaining important nutrients - for example rabbits, gorillas and capybaras.
- Eating one’s mother’s poo helps infants to cultivate gut bacteria important in the digestion of plant material – for example koalas, where the joey eats the mother’s “pap”.
Feeding on dead animals or plants. There are more scavengers in the natural world than I have time to list here – but as this is a competitive habit, scavengers are ruthless in their pursuit of carrion. The pomarine jaeger and northern giant petrel are excellent examples of seabird scavengers.
The natural world is an undoubtedly smelly place – as sense of smell is an important method of communication and having a certain pong tends to pay off. No more so than the titan arum, the plant with the largest flower in the world. In this case, being absolutely huge isn’t enough to attract the insects it needs for pollenisation, so the titan arum flower emits a stench not dissimilar to rotting flesh, earning it the title “corpse flower” amongst locals.
“If you have any poo, throw it now”
I apologise – back to poo again. Throwing the stuff is common behaviour amongst chimpanzees and other primates. It’s an aggressive display to guard their territory. Ok, I’ll stop talking about poo now. Here’s what it looks like, though.
Parasites tend to have evolved elaborate and often stomach-churning ways of taking advantage of their hosts. Ichneumon wasps are great examples. They lay their eggs in caterpillars, and the resulting wasp larva develops inside the unfortunate host, eating its internal tissues and eventually killing the caterpillar after it pupates. Not a pretty way to go!
This is definitely one of the more sinister behaviours. Some orcas have a somewhat less respectful way of treating the corpses of their prey, swimming underneath and using their powerful tails to propel them metres above the ocean.
You know how Gremlins, the fictional film monsters, gave birth to baby Gremlins when they were exposed to water, and how the baby Gremlins popped off their parent’s back with grotesque popping sounds? Here’s the real life version. The eggs of the Suriname toad are embedded in the female’s back during amplexus, where they are nurtured through the tadpole stage and emerge as fully-formed frogs. Gross. I don’t think they make the popping sound, though.
A type of parasitism, vampirism is thought to have evolved in some species as a response to extreme environments where other food sources are scarce. Introducing the “vampire finch” – some short-beaked ground-finches feed on the blood of the other inhabitats of their dry, food-scarce Galapagos Island habitats. On top of this, they have also learnt some ingenious ways of getting to the nutritious contents of Nazca booby eggs. An excellent example of “culture” in the animal kingdom.
Being a scientific organisation, ARKive tries not to use human terms to describe animal behaviour – but for want of a better word… the magellanic penguin below looks innocent enough doesn’t it? This is probably just what a film crew from NDR Naturfilm thought when they decided to film a documentary following one of these beautiful creatures. Little did they know that they would end up filming an incredible example of inexplicable and “cruel” animal behaviour. The male subject of this film was relentlessly chased down and pecked to death by a competitive male. You can view the video on ARKive here, but be warned, it’s not for the feint of heart.
So, that concludes our countdown of ARKive’s Top 10 Natural Nasties. As horrifying as they are, the blessing is that we have only covered the species we have on ARKive. There’s many more out there that are just as gross and would be very happy to make you their host. So watch out!
Charlie Whittaker, ARKive Media Researcher