Did you ever hear about the larvae that ate the toad? No? Well, neither has anyone else, mostly. Sounds awfully absurd to be true, but wilder things have happened in nature, like sharks eating each other, as of late.
As part of Wired’s “Absurd Creature of the Week” feature, the Epomis Beetle Larva is in the spotlight. This tiny insects are devouring their much larger predators, amphibians, left-and-right and have proven to be a real nightmare them.
The beetle larvae lure in unsuspecting predators for a seemingly easy meal usually with their back turned towards them. Next they’ll pull off a swift 180 and sink their powerful hooked jaws into the would-be attackers.
Through these hooked jaws, the larvae slowly drains the life out of them–effectively turning the tides of the food chain in an instant.
Entomologist and photographer, Gil Wizen, told Wired–in gruesome detail–the exact process of an Epomis Larva’s consumption methods.
Once the Epomis Larvae is in a frog’s mouth, Wizen said, the first thing that it does is sink its jaws into the tongue. If not the tongue, then it will clamp on the skin someplace.
The larva will will then painstakingly feast on the amphibian.
The only thing the predator-turned-prey can do now is manage to swallow the Epomis Larva. However, this will still not save the frog in the long run.
Wired reports that scientists once watched a toad swallow a Epomis Larva without any resistance. Two hours later, the toad regurgitated the larvae and it attacked the toad again after regaining its strength.
And even if its prey does manage to get away, the saliva of an Epomis larva contains an enzyme which starts eating away at the flesh of its victims. After a while, the amphibian will no longer be able to move. Wizen also said this about the process,
“What we see is that it sort of tears tissues from the amphibian’s body. After a few hours the amphibian is reduced to just a pile of bones and just a little bit of skin. You can say that the digestion is already beginning before the food enters the mouth.”
Epomis Larva go through three phases, known as instars. Every instar stage gradually requires Epomis larvae to acquire more food for sustenance. During the first instar the Epomis will only eat one victim occasionally. The second is two or three, and the last can call for as many as five.
Adult Epomis Beetles do the same thing, except with even more power when they have matured. The beetles can now pull off more direct attacks like brutally clipping off a frog’s leg with its serrated jaws then feasting on the rest, for instance.
The adult Epomis even know where to strategically cripple their prey. Wizen explains, “what we do think—we still need to confirm this—is that they cut the connecting muscles [of the legs] so the amphibian doesn’t have any way to escape.”
According to Wired, only around 10 percent of the predators are smaller than its prey. Scientist believe that this phenomena is unprecedented and the Epomis have evolved for eons to become the first species of insects to turn amphibians into prey.
Scientist also believe that the Epomis may be some sort of predator-parasite hybrid given their nature. Nevertheless, it appears that amphibians have a new deadly predator on their list and it comes in a small package.
Just when you thought nature couldn’t get any scarier–it did.Watch an Epomis Larva lure a toad into a trap below.
[Photo via Getty Images/Ian Waldie]