The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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Nature both terrifies and fascinates me.

August 2nd, 2005 · No Comments · Misc.

A short list of creatures that scare the shit out of me:

  • Stromatopods

    [Stromatopods] strike by rapidly unfolding and swinging their raptorial claws at the prey, and are capable of inflicting serious damage on victims significantly greater in size than themselves. These two weapons are employed with blinding quickness, rapidly reaching 10 m/s from a standing start, and can strike with a force comparable to a small-caliber bullet.

    Some mantis shrimp, which are sometimes kept as aquarium pets, have managed to break through their double-paned aquarium glass with a single strike from the weapon.

  • Sacculina Carcini

    Sacculina carcini, a barnacle, or microscopic animal that usually lives on rocks. Sense organs on female Sacculina legs catch the scent of her host, a crab; she dances through water until landing on the crab’s armor.

    Crawling along a crab arm, she looks for a hole from which small hairs sprout. Then she jabs a long hollow dagger through the hole–injecting a blob made up of a few cells. Sacculina sheds most of her body like a husk; the part that lives on now looks like a microscopic slug.

    The slug settles in the crab’s underside and grows, forming a bulge in its shell and sprouting a set of root-like tendrils that spread throughout the crab’s body, even wrapping around its eyestalks. These tendrils draw in nutrients dissolved in the crab’s blood. Remarkably, this gross invasion fails to trigger any immune, or disease-fighting response, in the crab. The crab merely continues to wander through the surf.

    As the female parasite grows, the bulge turns into a knob. Sacculina will remain as an adult inside the crab for the rest of her life, unless a male larva should find a pin-size opening on the knob. Typically, each female Sacculina carries two males with her for her entire life. They endlessly fertilize her eggs, and every few weeks she produces thousands of new Sacculina larvae.

    Eventually the crab turns into a kind of mindless slave serving the parasite. The crab stops molting (shedding outer layers) and growing, which would only funnel energy from the parasite. But the crab doesn’t lose its urge to nurture–it simply directs affection toward the parasite.

  • Euphorbia Poisonii

    Euphorbia poisonni is a highly toxic and succulent member of the large and varied Spurge genus of plants.

    The active toxin Resiniferatoxin* binds to pain receptors in the same way as capsaicin but much more powerfully. It stimulates the neurons to fire repeatedly until the neuron dies, causing searing pain and sending the victim into severe anaphylactic shock.

    * Resiniferatoxin is 1000 to 10,000-fold more potent than capsaicin.

  • Cymothoa Exigua

    Cymothoa Exigua attaches itself at the base of the snapper’s tongue with claws, and drinks from the artery which supplies its blood. As the parasite grows, less and less blood is able to reach the tongue, eventually causing it to atrophy and become useless. Fortunately, the parasite is attached to the stub, and is now large enough to operate as a replacement tongue for manipulating the fish’s food. What’s more, it gets free meals of freed food particles when the fish eats, lessening the drain on its blood manufacture. As far as anybody knows, this is the only case of a parasite fully and functionally replacing one of its host’s organs.

  • Alpheus Bellulus

    Alpheus Bellulus can also produce sonoluminescence from a collapsing bubble caused by snapping a specialized claw quickly closed. This has been dubbed “shrimpoluminescence.” The light produced is of lower intensity than the light produced by typical sonoluminescence, and is not visible to the naked eye. It most likely has no biological significance, and is merely a by-product of the shock wave which these shrimp use to stun or kill prey. However, it is the first known instance of an animal producing light by this effect.

    When the air bubble implodes it momentarily reaches temperatures of several thousand degrees Kelvin, comparable to the temperature of the outer layer of the Sun.


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