The world is full of terrifying and dangerous beasts ranging from lions to great white sharks to black mambas. Nature is designed for killing, one way or another. So it’s a relief to know that a lot of creatures are innocent and harmless and even friendly, right? Sure it is. Except for when those seemingly harmless things turn out to have horribly dangerous cousins.
10. Oyster Mushrooms are Carnivorous
What could be less harmful than a mushroom? Well, except for all the deadly ones. But the deadly ones come with a catch, usually. You can’t typically get killed by fungus unless you consume fungus. That’s why it’s never a good idea to forage for mushrooms unless you know what you’re doing. That said, the oyster mushroom is a beast of a different color, which is to say yes, it’s a mushroom, but it’s also carnivorous.
Although they may not be as intimidating or upwardly mobile as some carnivores, oyster mushrooms are still able to attack and paralyze nematodes, those tiny little parasitic worms, before devouring them.
When a nematode gets too close to a mushroom, tiny hair-like fibers will paralyze the worm, and a toxin kills them. Little filaments then work their way into the nematode corpse and then the insides will be dissolved and absorbed into the mushroom. Strictly speaking, if you’re a true vegan, you probably shouldn’t eat oyster mushrooms as a result.
9. Carnivorous Sponges
Speaking of carnivores, if there’s one creature in all the world you wouldn’t think had the temerity to hunt down and kill any prey, it has to be the sponge. There are generally two things people know about sponges – they’re absorbent and they sometimes wear square pants. They are not, however, intimidating.
Deep in the ocean, some 10,000 feet down, you’ll find Chondrocladia lyra, also known as the harp sponge. It looks like a candelabra and may actually be less intimidating than your average sponge. Despite that, as it sits and looks fragile on the ocean floor, its long, thin arms are hard at work devouring prey.
As ocean currents move tiny life forms and crustaceans along, then become ensnared by the sponge’s arms thanks to small hooks. Once they are trapped, the sponge begins to form a membrane over them and digests them. This is just one of several related species that have been discovered which are capable of catching and consuming live prey, unlike most sponges which just filter bacteria from the ocean floor.
8. Giant Prehistoric Penguins
Few animals are as adorable and whimsical as the penguin. Whole movies have been made about them waddling about their business, having little penguins and trying to avoid being eaten by seals. And we’re lucky we get to enjoy them in the here and now because once upon a time the penguin was a formidable beast.
Back in 2006 in New Zealand, some school children happened upon some fossilized remains of a bird that was considerably larger than most other birds in the area. Dating back around 30 million years, the fossils belonged to a prehistoric breed of penguin since named Kairuku waewaeroa, which stood 4.5 feet tall.
These ancient birds had much longer legs than the penguins of today, as well as long, spear-like beaks and likely would have been much faster moving as a result. So try to imagine a modern penguin the size of a short man capable of chasing after you at human running speed and you may have some idea of what it was like.
7. Pine Trees Team with Fungus to Eat Bugs
Pine trees are known for a handful of things. They make passingly good Christmas trees; they produce both cones and nuts, and the scent of pine can work as a car air freshener in a pinch. That’s more claim to fame than most trees get. But it doesn’t stop there. These stationary, non-sentient organisms also shame other trees by occasionally creating a symbiotic relationship with fungus that allows them to create a web of death so they can kill and devour insects that venture too close.
The Eastern White Pine, which can grow to over 200 feet in height, forms a relationship with a mushroom called the bicolored deceiver. The mushrooms cover the pine roots in a mycorrhizal sheath which allows the fungus to steal some of the sugars the tree makes during photosynthesis. In exchange, the fungus kills off tiny insects found in the soil and then absorbs the nutrients from their bodies, sharing some with the pine trees. The tree gets to enjoy some nitrogen from the insect carcasses and the whole area stays relatively bug free, in case you’re ever looking for a place to go camping that’s less creepy-crawly than some others.
6. Kea Parrots Eat Sheep Alive
Parrots are mostly known for being long-lived and for the tendency to easily pick up foul language, which makes them one of the funniest pets you can own. But it’s not all 100-year-long curse fests. Some of these birds are more dangerous than they seem. Take the New Zealand kea, for instance. These dark green birds grow to be over a foot and a half long and weigh just a kilogram and were historically hated by farmers, thanks to the fact they eat sheep.
Birds were caught on camera in 1992 actually perching on a sheep’s back, digging into its flesh to pull chunks away and consume the animal while it was still alive. Farmers had told stories of it happening for years, but most people didn’t believe them because why would they?
For years it was assumed the birds ate things like fruit and berries until someone took the time to point out that, where the birds live in the mountains, there just aren’t any fruit or berries over the winters and thus they’d have to eat something else. In this case, sheep.
5. Giant Triton Snails Hunt Toxic Starfish
You could make a good case for snails being the least intimidating creatures in the world. They’re preposterously slow, they have no bones or teeth or limbs, and they can be killed by salt. There isn’t a lot to make them particularly fearsome at all. But that’s just your average garden snail.
Giant Triton snails can be found along the Great Barrier Reef and grow to two feet in length. They feed on the crown of thorns starfish which have been known to overwhelm reefs, so they’re pretty helpful monsters of the deep. They’re fairly opportunistic predators, however, and will eat almost anything they can find regardless of whether it’s poisonous.
The snails themselves are toxic, the saliva it produces paralyzes its prey so that it will sit still while the snail cuts it open with a tooth-lined mouth tube and then sucks out the soft innards.
4. Prehistoric Guinea Pigs Were The Size of Buffalo
Have you ever wondered how many guinea pigs are in the world? Well, someone has, and at least one group of guinea pig enthusiasts has guessed that number to be around 30 million. They make for easy to care for pets, don’t take up a lot of room and, depending on where you live, they’re also fairly popular as food. But that’s the common pig we all know that weighs maybe 0.5 to 1.5 kilograms and rarely gets to be more than 30 centimeters long.
Head back in time about three million years and you might find Josephoartigasia monesi, the prehistoric cousin of modern guinea pigs that weighed 100 kilograms and grew to be the size of a buffalo. Like its cousin Phoberomys pattersoni, this giant rodent would have had a long tail for balance and large incisor teeth that could deliver a devastating bite. Based on reconstructions of the animals’ skull, researchers guess it would have had an overall bite strength similar to that of a tiger, but the force exerted by its pronounced front teeth would have been as much as three times greater.
3. Vampire Moths Eat Blood
Most of us don’t interact much with moths. They may try to eat your clothes in a closet or bounce off of your porch light on a summer evening and that’ll be that. They’re nature’s less interesting butterfly.
In their larval stage, moths actually will eat your clothes, which could be a serious nuisance. But, like butterflies, once they mature to the winged creature you recognize, they eat an entirely liquid diet and that means your wardrobe is not in danger. That said, you might be next on the menu depending on the moth.
Known as the vampire moth, insects like Calyptra thalictri feed on blood and they are willing to take it from humans. Most of the blood-feeding species live in Europe, Africa and Asia, but they do have cousins in North America that haven’t been observed feasting on the living. There are actually 17 species in the family, but only 8 have been observed consuming blood and just two have gone for humans. Of course, two is probably two more than most people would like.
The tiny bugs are remarkably good at what they do and can even pierce thick elephant skin by just working their straw-like proboscis back and forth until it gets down to the tasty blood, which they then suck up until they’ve had their fill.
2. Loggerhead Shrikes Impale Their Prey on Spikes
The loggerhead shrike can be found all across North America, singing delightful little songs and fluttering through trees and grasslands. They weigh between 30 and 50 grams and are generally smaller than a robin with chubby looking bodies and a hooked beak. They also hunt like Vlad the Impaler by spearing their prey on foreign objects in a grisly display of death and mayhem.
Because a loggerhead shrike doesn’t have talons like a hawk or other bird of prey, they instead use natural thorns or even barbed wire as weapons, forcing their prey upon the spikes and then feeding on the impaled bodies at their leisure. If you ever see a barbed wire fence peppered with the impaled corpses of other insects, lizards and even small mammals, there’s a good chance you’re on a shrike’s hunting grounds.
1. White-Tailed Deer Will Eat Meat and Bone
Few animals are more representative of the sweet, innocent side of nature than deer. Just look at Bambi, possibly the go to image for gentle goodness. This is likely only because Walt Disney was unaware that white-tailed deer will, on occasion, eat things like birds and human bones.
Back in 2015, a camera trap that had been set up at Forensic Anthropology Research Center in Texas caught an unusual sight. The research center is what is often better known as a body farm. Corpses are donated to the center and left on the grounds to decay so forensics specialists can study them, which has aided immensely in our understanding of death and crime solving by providing valuable information about how bodies decay over time.
In this particular instance, the camera was triggered by a deer that showed up on the 26-acre property and began to chew on the rib bone of one of the corpses. Speculation was that it was trying to get some of the minerals from the bones, but arguably that’s why an ogre would eat your bones as well.
Obviously, most deer have limited access to human corpses, so this carnivorous moment must be rare, right? Not exactly. Without human prey, deer just go for something smaller and easier to eat, like ground-nesting birds. As long as food doesn’t run away, a deer will eat it.