This picture was taken inside a cave, the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand, where the ceiling is covered in Millions of Glow Worms! The little glow worms produce light using an enzyme called luciferase which causes Oxygen and a chemical called Luciferin to react, producing the light.
It's been said that the path to overcoming fear is paved with understanding. Normally I'd agree – but when it comes to Hawaii's carnivorous caterpillars, I find myself second-guessing the maxim. Because THESE CATERPILLARS EAT LIVING FLESH. Here's how evolution played this cruel joke on us all.
Note: All animations feature in this post were sampled from BBC Two's brief (and, consequently, somewhat informationally lacking), introduction to carnivorous caterpillars, which I have here distilled down to its purest, nightmarish, eternally looping form.
This, dear reader, is a carnivorous caterpillar. It is one of the more than 20 species belonging to the genus Eupethecia believed to reside exclusively on the Hawaiian islands. As you may have already gathered from the GIF up top, members of this insular clade tend to sport some rather scary-looking appendages:
Now, scary-looking body parts, in and of themselves, aren't especially rare among caterpillars. But unlike, say, the poisonous bristles of the nettle caterpillarDarna pallivitta, or the don't-eat-me-or-you'll-regret-it coloration of Forbestra olivencia larvae, which are predominantly passive forms of predator-deterrence, the pincers on Hawaii's caterpillars serve a decidedly active purpose, viz. ensnaring unsuspecting prey. They also play a vice-like role once the caterpillar has acquired its victim; unwilling meals, after all, tend to wriggle.
That these caterpillarsmake active use of their scary-bits underscores their transition from a prey-species to a predatory one. And in fact, the conversion to carnivorousness appears to have been a very successful evolutionary path for Hawaiian members of Eupithecia; of all the species identified on the archipelago, only two of them are herbivorous. The rest carry out their murderous larval lives making meals of everything from flies and moths to crickets and cockroaches. They've even been known to prey on other caterpillars.
The carnivorous caterpillar's predatory technique is rather straightforward. First, the larva secures itself inconspicuously along a leaf or twig using its rear set of appendages. When an unsuspecting meal treads across its posterior, the caterpillar springs forth, snatches its prey and evanesces the futilely twitching body to the other side of its chosen perch (above); or, alternatively, whips it right into the air with the gleeful alacrity of a child who's just grabbed hold of something she's probably not supposed to (below).
Most of Hawaii's carnivorous caterpillars capture prey via this hair-trigger mechanism, a rare exception being Hyposmocoma molluscivora – a species (belonging, you'll notice, not to the genus Eupithecia, but Hyposmocoma), first reported by University of Hawaii entomologist Daniel Rubidoff in 2005, that weaves spider-like webs to capture and restrain snails. (Like members of Eupithecia, H. molluscivorae consume their prey while it's alive.)
Via Rubinoff and Haines, 2005
It bears mentioning that the meat-eating caterpillars of Hawaii are not omnivores. They're carnivores through-and-through. To quote Rubidoff, these caterpillars "wouldn't sample foliage if they were starving." How or why they first set out on this evolutionary course is unclear, but researchers agree the caterpillars' path was almost certainly cleared by the isolation provided by Hawaii's islands.
Researchers have discovered a new type of praying mantis previously unknown to science in Rwanda's remote Nyungwe national park. Dystacta tigrifrutex — also known as the tiger bush mantis — earned its name from the hunting practices of the female members of the species. Like a bug version of a big cat, wingless female mantises stalk the undergrowth of the mountainous Nyungwe park, tracking prey at ground level.
Scientists found the new species when a male bush tiger mantis was attracted to a light trap placed during a three-week expedition to the national park. Unlike females of the species, male bush tigers have wings, and live higher in the forest's vegetation. Shortly observing the male, the researchers were able to capture a female bush tiger mantis. The female laid an egg case, known as an ootheca, while in captivity, allowing the scientists to study the newly uncovered species at almost every stage of its lifespan.
Males bush tiger mantises can fly, while females remain on the ground
Dr. Gavin Svenson, one of the lead authors of the study that unveiled the bush tiger mantis to the world, says the species likely only lives in the mountainous Nyungwe national park. Svenson, who is planning to return to the park in June to search for more bush mantises and other new species, says the rarity of the vicious little minibeast "adds significant justification for protecting Nyungwe to ensure species like this can continue to exist.
This unsettling creature is called Eunice aphroditois, or colloquially the Bobbit worm. These critters can grow up to three meters long and have pincers capable of slicing its (sometimes larger) prey right in half. Also? It injects a toxin into its prey to make it easier to digest. Yum.
The worm keeps itself buried in the sand or gravel at the bottom of the sea, only allowing its five tiny antennae to stick up out of the silt. If something swims or crawls along that disturbs one of the antennae, the worm springs up out of the ground and grabs whatever passerby happened to be unlucky that day. They're found throughout the warmer parts of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.
Who needs Shark Week to be terrified? Just show us some aquatic predatory worms. This is the stuff of nightmares.
Giant flesh-eating leech filmed swallowing huge earthworm like spaghetti For the first time a giant, 1m long, leech has been filmed swallowing a huge blue earthworm in the forests of Borneo for new BBC documentary Wonders of the Monsoon
It resembles a monster from a b-list horror film but deep in the forests of Borneo this giant leech really exists and is a deadly predator.
The creature is so new to science that it does not yet have a taxonomic name. It is known to the tribes of Mount Kinabalu as the ‘Giant Red Leech.’
It was filmed for the first time by BBC filmmakers for the new series ‘Wonders of the Monsoon.’
The Giant Red Leech is one of the biggest in the world. The specimen captured on camera was around 30cm long but experts believe they could grow larger.
They have grown so big that they no longer simply suck blood but now actively hunt giant blue worms and suck them down like spaghetti. The worm it is eating is a whopping 78cm.
The new footage shows the leech detecting a worm’s trail and following the scent like a sniffer dog.
When it encounters its prey it quickly latches on and moves its lips up and down the iridescent blue body.
"It was either searching for an end to grab, or was working out whether it was too big to eat” said documentary director Paul Williams.
"When it found an end it started to suck. It was incredible"
The worm tries to pull away but slowly the leeches lips inch forward until with a slurp, the worm is gone.
"The result is that we could confirm the predatory behaviour of a rarely-seen and unidentified species for the first time.” said added Williams.
Finding the species on Mount Kinabalu, the biggest mountain in Borneo, was a huge challenge and the team worked with ecologist Alim Bium to locate the leech.
"If you want to film a predator the best thing to do is to find its prey” said Williams, but it took the team several weeks of searching before an extremely heavy rainstorm eventually brought worms out in huge numbers. The red leeches were not far behind.
“By working with Alim we were able to sufficiently light the area of forest to record the predation as it unfolded” said Paul.
“It was exciting and fascinating, as he was making his new scientific discovery, we were documenting the behaviour for the very first time”
Bium added: “Very little is known about them, we don’t know how they hunt, or even how big they grow, because no one has researched them.”
The new documentary follows wildlife and cultures from the Himalayas to Northern Australia whose lives are shaped by monsoons.
Innovative filming techniques and technology capture animal behaviour and stunning storm footage as never before.
The remarkable ways that animals adapt to survive the monsoon are revealed, from baby orang-utans, building umbrellas from forest leaves, to the beautiful and bizarre caterpillars in the tropical forests, who harness poison from the trees to defend themselves against predators.
For the first time the crew filmed an immense colony of 300,000 red flying foxes, a type of bat which lives in caves in the Northern Territories of Australia.
They captured the life and death dives that the bats make into crocodile infested rivers to drink.
For director Nick Lyon, to get in a position to film the crocs meant getting amongst them. “The only way to film this was from a small tin boat. This meant navigating up the river in daylight, but more scarily the behaviour happened at dusk, so by the time we’d finished filming I had to remember the route back in pitch black through lots of hazards like sunken logs.
“It was only when the torches were turned on you could see how many crocs were in the river, and all eyes were trained on us.”
Night after night Mr Lyon had to lay flat in the boat to help keep it steady amongst the crocs while cameraman Warwick Sloss worked with the low light conditions.
“The grabs can happen in a blink of an eye and there were so many times when we thought we’d got it but it was a false call” In the age old style of wildlife filming it wasn’t until the last day that the team got lucky.
“We didn’t even know that we’d filmed it when it happened, we had to play it back slowed down by 12 times to see that the crocodile had been successful.”
Series producer Paul Bradshaw said: “This is natural history set in the planet's most glorious and dramatic theatre - the lands of the monsoon.
“It's an incredibly rich mixture of extraordinary creatures, great and small, with some of the planet’s most colourful and ancient cultures, all bound together through the story of this rampaging weather system.”
Octopuses are known to be very intelligent creatures, but one octopus in New Zealand is outclassing all of her peers by taking photographs of her aquarium visitors. World, meet Rambo, the very first trained octopus photographer, or octographer, as we now say.