They say that only two things in life are guaranteed: death and taxes. If you’re not a human, then that means only one thing is guaranteed. And even though we all have to die sometime, we sure don’t all get to go out the same way.
The animal kingdom can be brutal and death can come from predators, lack of habitat, lack of resources, and dozens of other reasons. But some species have unique and bizarre hazards that only they face. Let’s take a look at ten of the most unusual.
10. The Suicide Palm Flowers to Death
With a name like “suicide palm,” it’s clear that this particular plant has an unusual story. It grows in Madagascar and was only discovered back in 2006. Though it has the less grim name of Tahina, the morbid “suicide plan” name came from the tree’s remarkably unusual life cycle.
For decades, the tree will grow up to a height of as much as 18 meters or nearly 60 feet. Then it blossoms for the first and only time. Nectar-filled blossoms cover the tree numbering in the millions. These will eventually turn into fruit. Producing the flowers and fruit takes every resource the tree has, and it is unable to survive the process. The tree dies and the fruit will litter the ground around their dead progenitor.
The fruit can obviously give rise to a new generation of trees if the seeds take root and are able to grow, but if something didn’t work out, then the plant would simply die out in that location thanks to its all-or-nothing reproduction plan.
9. Australian Jewel Beetles Loved Beer Bottles to Death
Insects get a lot of credit for their seemingly remarkable abilities to organize and perform tasks but, realistically, that’s mostly reserved for bees and ants. The rest of the insect kingdom is generally overlooked, and maybe that’s for good reason, at least when it comes to something like the Australian jewel beetle. These poor little creatures have one claim to fame and it’s not a complex hive organization or their industrious nature. It’s that they’ll kill themselves trying to mate with beer bottles.
Researchers discovered the habit of the Australian beetles by accident some years ago. In the field, two scientists were studying something else altogether but happened to notice these beetles giving their best effort with discarded beer bottles.
Numerous beetles and numerous bottles indicated it wasn’t just a fluke. These bugs were trying to get busy and there was no mistake. In scientific terms, they were able to observe that the beetles were definitely attempting to mate.They even set up new bottles and observed that they attracted more males for would latch on and had to be forcefully removed to get them to stop. One even continued even as ants bit its genitals.
The researchers noted that the female beetles were almost exactly the same shade of brown as the specific brand of bottles that the beetles had chosen. And, just like bottles, the females had a dimpled carapace. So the males were simply confused. But they were so committed that they would continue even unto death in the sun or plucked off and eaten by predators.
The story does have a happy ending, however. After the scientists released their findings, the company that made the seductive bottles changed the design to remove the confusing dimples. The beetles then lost interest.
8. The Longhorn Cowfish Poisons Itself
If you’re into saltwater aquariums, you may already know about the longhorn cowfish. They’re popular among exotic fish enthusiasts because of their bright yellow color and their extremely unusual appearance. But keeping them in an aquarium presents a unique danger in the form of their natural self-defense abilities.
Most animals have some way to defend themselves, and the cowfish pulls this off by way of an ostracitoxin it can release. So it’s a poisonous fish. But again, that’s not so unusual. Lots of creatures are toxic or venomous in some way. The problem with the longhorn cowfish is that it’s not immune to its own toxins. So if the fish gets too excited or feels threatened, the toxin will fill the aquarium and not just kill all the other fish, it will kill itself as well.
The toxin can be removed from a tank with activated carbon, but if you need to do that, it’s likely everything will have died already.
7. Babirusa Tusks Can Pierce Their Own Skulls
A babirusa looks like a wild boar that someone tried to draw from memory after seeing it only once in passing. Sometimes called deer pigs, they’re native to parts of Indonesia. The most notable feature of a male babirusa is their remarkably long, curving tusks. Unlike a boar, they have two sets of two, not just one. While they have the expected set you’d expect to see protruding from their lower jaw, they also have an upward curving pair of canine tusks on their upper jaw as well. These tusks do not extend up outside of their mouths, instead they actually pierce through the animal’s snout flesh. As far as we know, they’re the only animal in the world with teeth that grow vertically like this.
It’s this pair of tusks that can become a lethal complication for the animal. As they grow, they curve inward, extending up and over its eyes.
The babirusa must find a way to wear those tusks down, either against trees or rocks. If it doesn’t, the tusks can curve around and pierce through the skull, killing it.
6. Army Ant Mills
Ants can live in colonies that house anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 members. While these colonies can be huge, they work because the members all work together. But sometimes they work together too well. Or too poorly, as the case may be. When individual members lack autonomy, one ant can follow another ant towards certain doom. This is what’s at the heart of an ant mill, the phenomenon which occurs in army ant colonies now and then.
Army ants have some unique features that separate them from other species. One is that they don’t have permanent nests like many other ant species, so they’re always on the hunt for new food sources.. Another is that they are blind. And that works for them because they use their other senses to forage for food.
When things work as planned, the head ant will lead the others by leaving a pheromone trail. The other ants follow the smell towards their goal. But if something goes wrong, and the lead ant doubles back, for instance, the other ants will follow that trail and the lead ant may also get caught following its own trail. This leads to the ants walking in circles, following trails that go nowhere. And because they’re not designed to do anything different, the ants will continue in these spirals until all of them die of exhaustion.
5. Demodex Mites Eat Until They Die
Right now, on your face, is an entire ecosystem you never see. Microscopic demodex mites are very likely living it up in your hair follicles and pores, feasting on your secretions and oils. It’s believed skin conditions like rosacea are caused by too many of these little critters taking up residence in your flesh. The method of how and why this happens is truly bizarre and more than a little offputting.
The older you are, the more likely you are to have the mites, and they seem to be shared through direct contact. They like oily skin best and are most likely to be found on your face. And while they might live a happy life on your face eating cells around hair follicles and sebum you secrete, they can’t actually get rid of anything they eat because they don’t come equipped with an anus.
With no way to remove waste, the mites just get bigger and bigger as they eat until they finally die and their filthy corpses are left in your flesh..
4. Dolphins Sometimes Commit Suicide
Dolphins are considered some of the smartest animals in the world, second only to humans and more intelligent than primates. They are capable of solving problems and abstract thought and, it seems, a lot of emotional turmoil. So much so that dolphins can even take their own lives.
Knowing that a dolphin can think about the world in almost the same way as a human, it changes how something like a dolphin show at an aquarium works. Imagine if someone was forcing you to swim and do tricks for a crowd every day. Or perform on camera, as was the case with Kathy, one of the dolphins that played Flipper on the TV series.
Trainer Richard O’Barry said he was in the tank the day Kathy killed herself. He claimed she sank to the bottom and stopped breathing. Dolphins must consciously control their own breathing, so if one were so inclined to simply suffocate, it could probably do so easily enough.
In the 1960s, NASA was trying to train a dolphin named Peter to speak English. In a bizarre twist, Peter fell in love with his trainer Margate Howe Lovatt with who, he trained six days a week. You may have heard the unusual details of that story when they made the news a few years back as the media was rather taken with the specific detail of how physical that relationship between human and dolphin got.
That aside, the experiments ended abruptly and Lovatt was fired. Peter was moved to a new tank and left alone. He voluntarily stopped breathing as well, sinking to the bottom and dying, just as Kathy had.
3. Shrews Need to Eat Their Own Body Weight Every Day
A shrew is often used as a pejorative term for someone who is a nag. Realistically, it should be a term for someone who eats like a fiend. A shrew’s metabolism is hard to imagine. Their hearts can beat 800 to 1,000 times per minute. One species even breaks 1,500 times per minute.
They can move 12 times per second and if they don’t eat their body weight every day, they die. A short-tailed shrew needs to eat three times its weight. If they even go a few hours without eating, it could be fatal.
2. Female Ferrets Must Mate or Die
Like shrews, ferrets are beholden to a biological imperative that can be deadly. Female ferrets go into estrus, or heat, like many other mammals. But the difference with ferrets is that if they don’t mate, they won’t survive the process.
Pet ferrets need to be spayed or neutered. First and foremost, it reduces their somewhat objectionable odor. But it also saves the lives of the females because those that don’t mate will die from aplastic anemia. This is due to imbalanced hormone levels caused by the ferret going into heat but not successfully mating. The hormones affect blood production and the fatal anemia soon follows.
1. The Australian Antechinus Mates Until it Dies
Going from a creature that will die if it doesn’t mate to one that will die because it mated, we have the Australian antechinus. These little mouse-like marsupials experience either the greatest or worst ending of any life, depending on your perspective and/or sense of humor.
Every year, males of the species are obliterated as they attempt to continue their genetic line. For upwards of 14 hours at a time for several weeks on end, they mate with females or fight off other males. This continues until they die.
The testosterone that floods their little bodies interferes with various stress hormone levels. This, in turn, completely destroys their immune systems and eventually they collapse and die as a result.
As bizarre as this sounds from an evolutionary standpoint, it actually helps the species out. With the male population destroyed, the pregnant females have less competition for food and are able to eat and provide for their young.