Terminators: frightful adaptations

Claws like chainsaws. Jets of slime that trap prey. These creatures look fearsome even to us humans, who are not even on their menu!

By Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-15) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Eoperipatus totoro Oliveira, Schaffer, Kvartalnov, Galoyan, Palko, Weck-Heimann, Geissler, Ruhberg & Mayer, 2013

Not all terminators look fearsome. This many-legged, slow-moving creature from a group called the “velvet worms” does not have what it takes to strike fear.

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-19) by Iffah IesaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

With so many legs moving in a semi-synchronised fashion, this species would more likely engender such adjectives as “cute” or “adorable”.

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-15) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

That is unless you are the object of the velvet worm’s dinner. This species is able to squirt a glue-like slime from paired organs called “slime papillae”.

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-19) by Iffah IesaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

This slime then entangles the intended target allowing this species to take its time feeding on the prey.

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-16) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Scientist have found that these animals can produce and store a lot of this slime. A related species had reserves of slime that comprised over one-tenth of its total body mass!

Velvet Worm (Peripatus sp.) (2018-07-19) by Iffah IesaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Eoperipatus totoro was named after a similarly many-legged fictional character in “My Neighbour Totoro”. It is known only from the ASEAN region from Vietnam.

Yellow Carnivorous Snail by Somsak PanhaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Yellow Carnivorous Snail
Diaphera prima Panha, 2010

The peculiar sword-shaped radula (teeth for cutting food) confirm that this is a predatory snail. It is believed that these carnivorous snails feed on other smaller snails, earthworms or other soil micro-arthropods. Its body is bright yellowish to pale-orange in colour.

Yellow Carnivorous Snail by Somsak PanhaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

This tiny carnivorous snail has a shell height of less than 10 millimetres. It is currently only known from a few restricted limestone karst areas in the Chonburi and Srakeow Provinces in Thailand.

Chain-saw Lobster (Thaumastocheles massonktenos) (2018-03-27) by SJADES 2018Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Thaumastocheles massonktenos Chang, Chan & Ahyong, 2014

This species is called the Chain-saw Lobster for obvious reasons. It brings to mind imagery of a character named “Jason” in a horror-movie that involves a chainsaw. This remarkable species was only named in 2014.

Chain-saw Lobster (Thaumastocheles massonktenos) (2018-03-27) by SJADES 2018Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Despite the fearsome appearance of the claw, scientist think that it is used for the less violent purpose of sieving out small animals from soft bottoms. Outside of the ASEAN region, this species is known from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and parts of the South China Sea. Within the ASEAN area, it is known from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Stigmatomma reclinatum (2018-06-28) by Wendy Y. WangLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Stigmatomma reclinatum (Mayr, 1879)

This species of ant comes from a group that has vampire-like attributes. They feed on the ‘blood’ (“haemolymph”) of their own young. They also have a unique social structure in that there are no queens and in her place, some of the female workers are empowered with the ability to reproduce. These are called “gamergates” which comprise between 0.5 and 50 percent of the colony.

Stigmatomma reclinatum (2018-06-28) by Wendy Y. WangLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

The absence of monarchy however does not mean perfect democracy. Hierarchies arise amongst the gamergates and the more dominant individuals actively suppress the reproductive potential of those further down the social ladder. Sometimes these lower-ranking gamergates are even expelled from the colony. In some colonies the dominant gamergate even becomes a queen in all but name! This species is only found in the ASEAN region from Indonesia, Peninsular Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Colubraria muricata by Marco OliverioLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Colubraria muricata (Lightfoot, 1786)

Snails of the genus Colubraria are known for leeching off sleeping fishes. The snail extends its proboscis (which can be three or more times the length of their bodies), into various openings on the fish’s body. These can include the mouth, anal opening, gill opening, eye socket, or simply a gap under a scale. The snail is then thought to use the fish’s own blood pressure to deliver its liquid meal. Scientists have also found that Colubraria snails inject a chemical cocktail into the fish which anaesthetises the fish, prevents its blood from clotting and at the same time constricts the blood vessels to limit the feeding session. Colubraria muricata is found throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In ASEAN, it is known from the Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech (Gastrostomobdella ampunganensis) (2015-06-25) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech
Gastrostomobdella ampunganensis Nakano in Nakano, Eto, Nishikawa, Hossman and Jeratthitikul, 2018

The archetypical leech sucks the blood of its target. This group of leeches swallows their prey whole! One of the hapless prey animals that these leeches are known to swallow whole are earthworms.

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech (Gastrostomobdella ampunganensis) (2015-06-25) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Video footage of a related species feeding on an earthworm appeared in a recent BBC 2 documentary entitled ‘Wonders of the Monsoon’. The leech literally just sucked the earthworm down—whole!

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech (Gastrostomobdella ampunganensis) (2015-06-25) by Heok Hui TanLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Beyond terminating the lives of many earthworms, little else is known about the natural history of this species. The Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech is currently only known from the ASEAN region from Sarawak, Malaysia.

Kanburi Pit Viper (2014-11-16) by Somsak PanhaLee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Kanburi Pit Viper
Trimeresurus kanburiensis Smith, 1943

This is a venomous species of snake, the bite of which contains a haemotoxic venom. It is found in deciduous and evergreen forests that are mixed with limestone outcrops at up to 600 metres in altitude. This snake is only known from Kanchanaburi Province in the western part of Thailand.

Chain-saw Lobster (Thaumastocheles massonktenos) (2018-03-27) by SJADES 2018Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Not all terminators are as terrifying as they appear to be. On the flip-side, not all “cute and cuddly things” are harmless either!

Credits: Story

Text:

Chain-saw Lobster
Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Colubraria muricata
Siong Kiat Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech
Peter K. L. Ng
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Kanburi Pit Viper
Yellow Carnivorous Snail
Somsak Panha
(Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

Stigmatomma reclinatum
Wendy Y. Wang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Velvet Worm
Heok Hui Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)


Images:

Chain-saw Lobster
SJADES 2018
(Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Indonesia and National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Colubraria muricata
Marco Oliverio
(Sapienza University, Italy)

Giant Red Predatory Ground Leech
Velvet Worm
Heok Hui Tan
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Kanburi Pit Viper
Yellow Carnivorous Snail
Somsak Panha
(Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

Stigmatomma reclinatum
Wendy Y. Wang
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)


Video:

Velvet Worm
Iffah Iesa
(National University of Singapore, Singapore)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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