We've said it before, but it bears repeating: Nature can be pretty damn scary. And at times, utterly merciless. Here are nine of the most unfortunate ways to die at the hands — or teeth — of a predator.
Before we proceed, it’s worth mentioning that some of these are quite disturbing, so proceed with caution.
1. Being eaten alive by insect larvae
Strike one up for the little guy — in this case the worm-like larvae of the predatory Epomis ground beetles. These larvae entice amphibians, like frogs and toads, and then latch onto parts of their bodies. The larvae refuse to let go, feeding off the animal until it dies.
Image: G. Wizen et al./PLoS ONE.
Dave Mosher from Wired explains:
The closer an amphibian moved toward a beetle larva, the more wildly the larva moved its antennae up and down or from side to side. Some larvae opened and closed their thorny mandibles while waving their antennae.
The dance of mouth parts seemed to lure amphibians into attacking.
“Amphibians hunt by movement,” Wizen said. “They’ll generally go after anything that’s small, moving, and within their reach.”
When an amphibian shot out its lightning-fast tongue to eat a larva, the larva quickly bobbed its head to dodge the attack. Moments later, the larva latched onto its prey’s skin and began to suck it dry.
Watch the larvae in action:
Interestingly, only 10% of predator-prey relationships result in a smaller animal eating a bigger one, but they are all active attacks — not a small creature luring its prey.
2. Getting thrown off a cliff by a golden eagle
Watch as this eagle drags a mountain goat off the side of a cliff.
Simple, effective — and awful.
3. Chased to exhaustion by an orca whale
Orca whales prey on many different types of animals, including fish, seals, penguins, squid, sea turtles — and even sharks. But they also like to feast on their fellow cetaceans.
Normally, orca whales hunt in packs and ambush a pod of whales, including gray and sperm whales. In order to incapacitate their prey, orcas will ram their massive bodies at high speeds into the whales, causing significant injury. They’ve also been known to chase a mother and calf for hours until the mother is exhausted and the calf can no longer be protected. Orcas like to feast on the calves’ nutritious tongues and soft flesh.
Image: Rob Hunt.
Orcas can also be brutal when hunting dolphins. Swimming at 30 knots, they ram into dolphins, throwing their bodies out of the water, breaking their spines.
4. Ripped apart by chimps
The way chimpanzees hunt monkeys is particularly stomach-turning. Once caught, the poor things are literally ripped apart and eaten.
This video is disturbing, so be warned.
Chimps have also been observed to attack each other in this way.
5. Being paralyzed and slowly devoured by a shrew
The humble shrew, a mouse-like animal with a long snout, doesn’t look like much of a threat, but it’s a total bastard.
The North American short-tailed shrew, Blarina brevicauda, secretes venom from salivary glands in its lower jaw to paralyze prey. But the point of the paralysis is not to kill the prey, but to keep it alive for an extended period of time to allow for prolonged feeding. A tiny shrew can infect a mouse, for example, and then graze on it for days and days until it eventually succumbs to its physical injuries. They’ve also been observed to munch on immobilized mealworms for up to 15 days. Shrews can eat their own body weight in earthworms, insects, nuts, and mice on a daily basis.
The shrew venom, which has been synthesized into a compound called soricidin, is harmless to humans — but its paralytic properties could be used to treat migraines, myofacial pain, neuromuscular diseases, and even wrinkles.
6. Crushed in the jaws of a saltwater crocodile
The saltwater croc is the largest of all living reptiles and is the largest terrestrial apex predator in the world. It also has the strongest bite of any living species — about 3,700 psi! Once caught, an animal is hopelessly locked in and killed by virtue of an underwater death roll.
The croc’s teeth are not designed to rip flesh, but to hold onto prey and prevent its escape. It has to be among the most brutal ways to go — like getting caught in an undertow, but by waves adorned with teeth.
7. Devoured by a bear
Bears are notorious, not just for their tremendous strength and predatory versatility, but for their dispassionate approach to killing. They often begin to feed immediately, without waiting for the prey to die — an event that’s merely incidental.
Some grizzlies have been known to grow as large as 1,500 lbs (680 kg), and exhibit strength equal to five humans. There’s very little an animal can do to shake that thing off — particularly if the bear is determined.
8. Caught at the bottom of a pitcher plant
It's kind of like the Star Wars Sarlacc pit come to life.
The pitcher plant a carnivorous plant that uses a deep cavity filled with liquid. It lures its prey —typically foraging, crawling, or flying insects like flies — into the cupped leaf with visual and nectar lures. When an insect gets too close, it slips on the smooth surface and falls to the bottom of the trap. Escape is virtually impossible; the pitcher plant has several means of preventing the prey from escaping, including waxy scales and downward facing hairs. Eventually the prey drowns, and the plant extracts nutrients by various means, including bacteria, enzymes — and mutualistic insect larvae that helps itself to the pickings, but nourishes the plant with its excreta.
9. Lured by the sound of a baby monkey in distress
This one’s more psychologically brutal than anything else.
Imagine being a pied tamarin monkey living in the Brazilian rainforest and suddenly a baby’s voice cries out in distress; the urge to go out and help would be overwhelming. But in reality it’s a lure set by a margay, a jungle-dwelling wild cat with remarkable mimicry skills.
The Wildlife Conservation Society reports:
Researchers from WCS and Federal University of Amazonas first saw this amazing case of vocal mimicry in 2005. Eight pied tamarins, which are about the size of squirrels, were feeding in a ficus tree. Suddenly, the sounds of tamarin babies rang out from a group of tangled vines, or lianas. The researchers pinpointed the cries to a margay, trying to lure in lunch. First, the group's “sentinel” dropped down from the tree to investigate. Then four more of the curious monkeys followed.
The spotted cat sprang to action.
Kudos to the sentinel that realized the mistake in the nick of time. Quickly sounding the predator alarm call, the tamarin thwarted the margay’s attack, saving its troop-mates.
Though the cunning cat missed out on its monkey meal on this particular occasion, the researchers watching nearby were heartily impressed with its hunting strategy. The sightings, which took place in the Reserva Florestal Adolpho Ducke, confirmed anecdotal reports from people living within the Amazon of wild cat species—including jaguars and pumas—mimicking primates, agoutis (a type of rodent), and other animals to draw them into striking range.
Top image: Larry Lynch via Natural History Museum of London.