What exactly qualifies as a weird diet in the animal kingdom? They eat insects, their own poop and sometimes their own children. But if you thought that you had seen it all, take a look at some of these creatures with bizarre dietary behaviors. Some of these are strange, while others seem lifted straight out of your nightmares. Like this one-
10. Tear Drinking Moths
Scientists discovered a species of tear drinking moth in Madagascar back in 2006, that uses its harpoon shaped proboscis to poke underneath the eyelids of sleeping birds and drink their tears. Although reports of moths that prowl in the night looking for tears extend back to 1928, none had been known to drink from birds.
Every night, this Madagascan moth sneaks up on sleeping birds and extends its scary looking proboscis, an oral appendage shaped like a harpoon with a tip covered in spikes, sliding it beneath the birds eyelids where the hook locks into place. When the spikes on the proboscis come in contact with the eyes, the irritation results in the release of tears which the moth then joyfully drinks. These moths have been observed to cling to the necks of birds and suck on their eyes for as long as 35 minutes, while the birds show no signs of disturbance, which is quite astonishing.
There are many theories as to why these moths love to feed on others sorrow. However, the most common theory is that the moths drink the tears in order to replenish their sodium reserves. Unlike us humans who have easy access to salt, the moth has no way to acquire sodium, and the soil found in the moths natural habitat is quite low on sodium content. The moths require sodium for their daily metabolism as well as for reproduction. When a male mates with a female, he donates about two thirds of the sodium stored in his body to the female. Then the female uses that sodium to lay a bunch of eggs which grow up to be adult tear drinking moths and the vicious cycle continues.
9. The Leaf-cutter Ant
Unlike the other entries on this list, diet of this little ant does not seem to be inspired by some horror movie character. However these are the only insects known to cultivate food. These wonderful little critters use their powerful jaws to cut down leaves and carry them to the nest. Each leaf-cutter ant can carry 10 times its own body weight. After reaching the nest, worker ants chew down the leaves into smaller bits and store them in special areas of the nest known as “fungal chambers”.
The ants store the decaying leaf pulp in these chambers along with their own feces, which acts as a great breeding ground for a certain species of fungi. The mixture of ant saliva, feces and moisture results in the most amazing fertilizer known to ants, who then enjoy munching on the fungus crops they grew. These ants cannot digest the plant material directly, hence they use this elaborate process of cultivating fungi to fulfill their nutritional needs. Which makes these ants much more civilized than some of their savage brothers who will kill any living thing in sight and feed on its mutilated corpse.
8. Cymothoa Exigua
Imagine you bought a fish for dinner, and just as you were gonna cut it open…. you find a tiny pair of eyes looking up at you from inside the mouth of the dead fish. As you slowly reach out to open the mouth of the fish, the tongue of the fish rises up and bites you. You probably wont be eating fish for quite some time after this horrifying incident, right? Well, except for the biting part, most of the other stuff is real. The creepy thing inside the mouth of the fish was actually a marine parasite. Also, multiple reports exist of people purchasing fish, only to find one of these lodged inside the mouth of the fish.
Cymothoa exigua is a tiny marine parasite belonging to the class of animals known as isopods (crustaceans related to crabs and lobsters). However, unlike its tasty crustacean relatives, this creepy looking underwater bug is the stuff of nightmares. It dwells inside the mouths of fishes and feeds on their tongues. It uses its legs to anchor itself in place and when the time comes, it will reproduce inside the body of the fish.That’s right, first it eats the fishes tongue, then has sex inside its mouth.
While Cymothoa exigua is still larva, it will swim through the oceans looking for a suitable fish to use as a host. When it finds the proper fish, it quickly swims inside through the gills and firmly attach itself to the base of the tongue, using its powerful hind legs. It then pierces the tongue with its claws and begins sucking blood. As the parasite grows, less and less blood reaches the tongue and eventually the organ atrophies. The parasite then attaches itself to the tongue muscles so it acts as a kind of pseudo-tongue. All tongue eaters are born male, but if a second male enters through the gills of a fish which already has a parasite lodged inside it, the older tongue eater will change its sex to mate with the newly introduced male. The larva produced from the intercourse are then released in search of a tasty new fish to feed on.
7. Amphibians that feed on their mothers skin
Caecilians are bizarre creatures that look like giant earthworms due to their long segmented bodies, but are actually amphibians, related to frogs and salamanders. They are burrowing animals found mostly in tropical soils and can grow as long as 5 feet. However the most intriguing (and totally gross) fact about these critters is that the newly hatched caecilians spend their first few days eating mommy’s skin. In fact they feed on skin until they are large enough to leave the nest and hunt for themselves.
Freshly hatched caecilians are equipped with razor sharp teeth and a fairly large mouth in comparison to their bodies. Immediately after hatching, they go into a skin-eating frenzy and a few of them even fight with each other over the same piece of skin. From what scientists observed, the mother was in no way harmed while the babies tore away her skin in gruesome fashion, in fact she grew a special kind of skin that comes off easily and is rich in nutrients, just for the purpose of feeding her young ones. And she can grow a new layer of skin every three days, so the little devils can keep feeding on her.
6. Parasitic Jaegers
Parasitic jaegers, a.k.a artic skuas are some of the most aggressive seabirds in the world. They are kleptoparasites, meaning they steal food from other species. They often harass other birds such as terns, puffins or seagulls that are carrying fish or any other prize back to their nest for their young. These winged maniacs will dive-bomb and peck the other birds mid-air forcing them to regurgitate their food out of terror. Then the skuas slurp up the half-digested remains with great pleasure, and return to bullying some more hard working birds who are on their way home.
Whenever the skuas are not busy chasing other birds, they will hunt small mammals, fish and insects. Skuas are also known to eat bird eggs (yes, they steal the eggs from the nest). However, stolen puke forms as much as 95% of a skuas diet in the winter. Whenever the target is too big for a single skua to handle,a whole group of skuas will gang up on it and chase it for eternity until it drops its food.In a lot of cases, if the skua gang is too bored of stealing they will chase their prey and peck it to death with their sharp beaks, like a bunch of ruthless avian gangsters.
5. The Assassin Bug
While the insect world is filled with terrifying creatures whose sole reason for living is to rip other insects apart and eat them, the assassin bug does its job in a more discreet manner. Evolution has fine tuned every part of this little critter for the purpose of killing, from its venomous snout to its powerful fore legs. In fact the bug is capable of killing insects much larger than itself and its venom can cause extreme pain to adult humans as well, although it is not lethal.
Several species of assassin bugs exist across the world, each with its own method of killing prey, some even use camouflage and mimicry to lure their prey into attack range. For example, one kind of assassin bug parks itself on the webs of spiders and tugs at the strings to imitate a trapped insect. When the spider approaches to investigate, the assassin turns it into a quick snack. Despite their diverse hunting techniques, most assassin bugs are equipped with the same weapon-a long oral appendage in front of their heads that secretes a toxic chemical substance. They hold their prey with their powerful front legs and pierce it with this snout, in a matter of seconds the toxin liquefies the innards of the insect.After that they slurp up the liquefied interiors with their snouts, just like we sip a smoothie. All that is left of their prey is the exoskeleton, which some species of assassin bugs wear as camouflage to trick their prey into coming closer. Now that’s really smart for a bug right?
Okay, we have a new contender for the title of “most disgusting creature you ever saw“, and its called the lamprey. Its buzzsaw-like mouth is filled with several rows of hook-like teeth designed to latch onto any living creature that dares swim near it. Lampreys live in coastal and fresh waters and are found in temperate regions around the world, except Africa.
Not sure if mommy hung around until all the eggs hatched, but the lamprey truly has a face only a mother could love. They have no jaws, instead their circular mouths are supported by rings of cartilage. When a lamprey bites a fish, its multiple rows of teeth sink into the skin of the fish, firmly anchoring the lamprey to its sides. Then it feasts on the blood of the fish, stuck to its side all the while since the helpless fish has no hands to free itself from the lampreys grip. However the lampreys teeth are not sharp and are in fact hooked backwards, they only exist to help the lamprey latch onto the skin of its prey. The real damage is done by the lampreys spiky tongue, which has little sharp structures all over it to scrape away the tissue and blood underneath the skin of the fish.
However the lampreys are not all bad, in fact their bodies are a storehouse of genetic information. After all, these fishes have been around since half a billion years. Besides, each lamprey has the regenerative powers of Wolverine, capable of regenerating from a severed spinal cord. Biologists are working hard to crack the code behind the lampreys amazing regeneration and when they do, paralysis and old age might become a thing of the past.
3. Dracula Ants
This recently discovered species of ants has scientists going crazy all over the world. While they are interested in it mainly because of its morphological resemblance to modern day wasps, the truly bizarre thing about this ant is the way it feeds. As you might have guessed from the name, it is a blood drinking insect. But it does not drink the blood of humans or animals, which is quite a relief since you can only imagine the kind of terror that a horde of vampire ants would cause. Instead it feeds on the blood-like plasma of its own larvae. Yes, these ants chew on their little ones till the fluids spills out of their bodies, then they drink it.
Vampire ants have been discovered in many locations across the world, and are known to consist of multiple species. These insects are said to be the “missing link” between ants and wasps. Which means, the secret to how modern day ants evolved from ancient wasps could be lying in the DNA of these insects. Unlike any other species of ants, their abdomens are joined directly to their waists,just like wasps. Their odd feeding behavior is certainly disgusting but its actually quite similar to some other species of ants. For example, adult fire ants cannot digest solid food by themselves, so they give it to their larvae to eat. Worker ants drop the solid pieces of food in the nursery so the little ones can chew it up. Then the larvae regurgitate the semi-digested food, which the adults can finally eat to gain vital nutrients. This is also the case with Dracula ants, they too give the solid food to their young ones. But unlike other ants these guys don’t rely on the puke of their children. They use their sharp jaws to slice up the larvae and feed on their blood, which acts like a sort of energy drink for the adults. The young ones are not killed,but are left with scars all over their bodies. This strange behavior has been termed “non destructive cannibalism” by biologists, although most people would call it “eating your children for lunch”.
2. Burying Beetles
These beetles are the undertakers of the insect world, undertakers that just love to eat the stinking flesh of dead, decaying animals. They can be found all around the world, and feed on the carcass of small mammals and birds. Their antennas can pick up the scent of dead bodies from long distances, usually within an hour of the animals demise. And the beetles have to reach the site fast, or else they will lose the prize to some other carrion-loving creature such as a raven or even another burying beetle. If two or more burying beetles stumble upon the same carcass they will fight for scavenging rights, the winner being the larger beetle.
If the beetle that finds the carcass is a single male, he will release a chemical pheromone into the air that is basically a signal for any nearby females to come and mate with him. And female burying beetles totally dig males who are the owners of a large pile of rotting flesh. After the females show up, the couple begins a long, intricate process that will make the carrion eligible for future consumption. They begin by shaving away all the fur and feathers from the body of the dead animal. Then they use their mouth and anus to emit a protein rich secretion that acts as a preservative, keeping the flesh free from microbes. After that they roll up the carcass into a ball, and make a small incision in the top. Then they cover up the whole thing with feathers and fur, after which they bury it in the ground. Then the two beetles make love to each other near the burial site (how romantic), and after a few days the female digs up a little nursery near the decaying corpse and lays her eggs in it.
When the young ones hatch, mommy treats them to a nutritious meal of decaying flesh, covered in anal secretions. And the beetle larvae love it, in fact they stroke moms mandibles with their tiny antennae, begging her to feed them. Then, the mother chews up pieces of the rotten flesh and regurgitates it into the mouths of the young. In fact burying beetles are very caring parents and both mom and dad stick around to take care of their young ones after mating, something we don’t see in most insect species. After about two weeks of feeding, the larvae move out of the nest and begin to pupate.After 48 to 60 days, the larva emerge as adults and the cycle starts all over again.
1. Dung Beetles
Dung beetles are known to spend their entire lives rolling up balls of poo and pushing those balls around. They are coprophagous insects, meaning they dine on the feces of other animals. The dung beetle starts its day by flying around in search of a nice, smelly pile of excrement. The beetles prefer the dung of herbivores such as cattle or elephant herds, because it contains undigested bits and juices from which the beetles gain their daily dose of nutrition. They really don’t need to drink or eat anything else, all their nutritional requirements are met by poo. Beetles can sense the smell of dung from far away, and hordes of them gather around the droppings of cattle. If the beetles are not in a relationship, chances are they might find a partner near the dung. Males will propose to female beetles by rolling up a nice stinking ball of feces and offering it to her. If the lady beetle is impressed, she will hang around the male as he rolls the ball away to a nesting site, where they will eventually mate. A couple of dung beetles will find a soft patch of soil to dig a hole, and then bury the ball in it. They then dig tunnels in the soil surrounding the dung. Then the female will mate with the male in the tunnel and soon afterwards she lays her eggs inside the pile of poop. And when the beetle larva hatch, they are treated to a nutritious meal of stinking poo by their mom. The beetle larva prefer to eat the solid undigested bits in the dung, while adults only drink the juices. However, despite their shitty dining habits, dung beetles are actually quite interesting creatures. They are the strongest animals on earth in terms of weight-strength ratio. The male horned beetles are capable of puling 1,141 times their own body weight. That’s the equivalent of an average human male pulling a 70 ton m1 battle tank. Dung beetles are capable of using the cosmos to navigate, in fact some nocturnal dung beetles use polarized moonlight to roll their ball of poo back to base. They push the ball with their rear legs and always roll it in a straight line until they reach home.
Author – Anant Yash Pandey