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Nature's Most Peculiar Eaters
We all learn early on that in order for animals to live they must eat - and this is something that connects us all, but it is also something that divides the more unique among us. Humans often take for granted that in order to eat one must get food, put it in your mouth, and swallow, but there isn't a global consensus on this. In fact some animals have some truly bizarre and amazing ways of eating.
Whale Sharks - Licking the Platter Clean
Whale Sharks are the world’s largest shark, measuring 40 feet in length. And since we don’t have a habit of measuring them some researchers suspect they may even get bigger than that. Being bigger than a city bus might give the whale shark an advantage. He could be the king of the sea, a super predator, but is he? Yes, and no. Whale sharks have enormous mouths which are open a great deal of the time just letting water flow gently through as they swim lazily by. There’s a good reason for this – it’s eating, in the most passive way possible. As the water goes through its mouth it filters out plankton, animals so small humans can’t see them without the aid of a microscope. This consists of the largest part of its diet but it sometimes swallows small fish who get in the way. To sustain such a massive physique the whale shark is suspected to eat as much as 3-6 pounds of plankton an hour.
Raccoons - The Clean Dinner Guests
Raccoons near human developments are often known as garbage thieves so it might come as a surprise that they also have impeccable hygiene. Often if they live near a stream or river they will take their food there and wash it in the water before they eat it, while at other times fastidiously washing their paws. It’s not clear why they do this but it can make for an adorable photo op…
The Aye Aye - Knocking at the Door
They Aye Aye (pronounced eye eye) is a scary looking little animal that has been long rumored by locals to be the cause of curses and you can see why. They have a face only a mother could love and long pointy witch fingers, the middle of which is much longer than the rest. As it turns out its strange finger isn't very good at hexing people but it is very efficient at tapping on trees. It does this as the Aye Aye has its ear to the tree listening to the echo of each knock. It can tell if the tree is hollow and more so it can tell if there’s any delicious grub in said tree by doing this. When it finds something worthwhile it digs into the tree and using its long finger to fish out whatever is living in there.
Spiders - The Smoothie Connoisseurs
Spiders are one type of animal that has suffered a bad reputation for the mere fact they are so alien to us. Most of us think of their eight legs, or eight eyes, or the fact they create sticky death traps out of threads they create with an organ called a spinnerette. They’re completely alien creatures living just under our feet and what I’m about to tell you won’t help the matter because spiders have some pretty strange dining habits. Some spiders make webs, and for these spiders catching dinner is a lot like fishing. They sit around waiting for something to get tangled and then they do something interesting – if they’re not hungry at that moment they’ll take the unfortunate bug and wrap them up in in more webbing in what looks like a bug burrito. Then the real interesting and terrifying process begins. All spiders, ones that weave webs and the ones who hunt without, have developed a sort of venom that has made digestion an easier process. They’ll puncture their victim with their hypodermic needle teeth and inject into them a compound that will start to digest them. That’s right, the bug will then be left to die while at the same time turning into a self-contained bug smoothie that will then be slurped up by the hungry spider in liquid form, leaving the exoskeleton empty and discarded. Yum.
Spider Making a Bug Burrito
Amoebas - An Unfriendly Hug
Amoebas are single celled creatures that often live in water mostly preying on other single celled creatures. However it’s hard to be a top predator when you don’t have a mouth or a digestive tract.. the amoeba has found ways around this. It has found that if it grows larger than its prey it can simply surround them and absorb them into itself to be digested – basically giving the poor creature the hug of death. If you've ever been a big fan of The Blob just be comforted in knowing it was probably inspired by a real animal…
Snakes - Can't Talk While Their Mouth is Full
Snakes share a lot in common with spiders – including a venom that partially digests its victims. However not all snakes are venomous but all snakes have an ingenious ability to eat things that are much bigger than their head. They have this ability for the simple reason that they need to swallow their food whole. When a snake has come across a food item of such size they dislodge their jaws, separating them completely from each other, which allows for food to pass through a larger opening. And since they have no hands to help shove these food items down their throat they have to rely on backwards facing teeth that they walk over their victim, pushing them down inch by inch. Snakes will also on occasion eat eggs, but they’re not too fond of the shell. They’ll swallow the egg, break it with bones in their throat, and throw up the shell while letting the gooey contents drip down into their stomachs.
Venus fly traps are odd eaters in the sense they’re plants. We don’t expect plants to eat, at least not in the way we do, but Venus Fly Traps and an assortment of other carnivorous plants really do. Venus Fly Traps are one of the more startling varieties because they move on their own accord. They have leaves that form a little gully at the bottom which contains sweet sugary nectar which lures in unsuspecting insects. The Venus Fly Trap has hairy sensors on its leaves and when its dinner walks on these sensors it triggers a reaction and its leaves close around the bug in question which is very soon dissolved into a puddle and absorbed entirely. But Venus Fly Traps aren't the only carnivorous plant around. In fact the largest carnivorous plant species, the Giant Montane Pitcher plan, can eat prey as big as rats and sometimes do. Even stranger still it apparently likes to eat shrew poop for dessert, leaving the shrew well alone to provide more dessert for tomorrow’s dinner.
Starfish - SciFi Nightmares
Starfish are strange creatures, the closer you look at them and their odd little lives the more you believe they might just aliens transplanted from another planet. Their creative eating doesn't exactly make this suspicion any better. You see starfish have a mouth at the center of their legs but it’s not really that straight forward. Instead of using those legs to scoop food into their mouths they instead puke up their entire stomach, use it to wrap around any food source, and partially digest it while it’s outside of the body before sucking up its stomach, food and all, to finish the process. Messy.
Ants - The Social Eaters
Ants are wonderful creatures that people tend to think little about. However there is much to be learned from ants, particularly on the merits of sharing. Ants live in colonies where the survival of each member is dependent upon the work of all the other members. It is by all intent and purposes a socialist society to the Nth degree. Basically when one ant finds food it leaves a scented trail to said food for other to find it and bring more home. When they ants are home they share whatever they've eaten by vomiting it into the mouth of other ants. In this way everyone is always fed. It has been an ingenious survival method but leaves them vulnerable to the poisons people leave for them.
Other ants have even more amazing ways to eat. Leaf Cutter ants have learned to farm leaves with which to grow their own store of edible mold with. Other species of ants raise aphids like cattle, protecting them from predators and receiving a sweet liquid from them in return much like the milk of a cow. Lastly soldier ants march across the rain forest floor in the millions devouring everything that cannot outrun them, no matter their size. They have learned hunting is a game of numbers.