Nature’s a cruel and unforgiving place, and animals do what they have to do to survive. We get that. But there are some creatures out there that resort to tactics that just seem downright cruel and unusual. These animals are so tricky, so sneaky, so conniving that it’s simply shocking. It’s probably unfair to judge these animals from a human perspective, but some of the behaviors below really seem to cross the line right into being just plain mean.
1: Black Herons Make Daytime Night
These African waterbirds have an unique and dastardly predation tactic called canopy feeding. They hunch over and form their wings into a circular makeshift umbrella over the water. This blocks out the sunlight and creates a small area of darkness underneath. In addition to helping the bird see what’s going on in the murk, surrounding fish are lulled into a false sense of security by making them think that either night has fallen or the shady area is a safe refuge. It’s neither. When a gullible fish then proceeds to poke its head out from its hiding place to investigate, it’s curtains by way of a brutal beak stab. Definitely one of the sneakiest animals, ever.
2: Livingstone’s Cichlids Kill by Playing Dead
A number of animals, like the opossum, play dead to discourage predators. Livingstone’s Cichlids (Nimbochromis livingstonii), on the other hand, use the gambit for offense. Hence their other common name, “The Sleeper.” When it’s time to hunt, all this fish has to do is flop over like a corpse and settle to the bottom, maybe gurgling a little and holding a tiny flower in its fins to add to the effect. Then when a fish comes to pick at the supposed carcass the cichlid perks back up again and gobbles up the scavenger.
3: Topi Antelope Cry Wolf for Sex
Topi antelope are a common species of ungulate from Africa with a complex social structure. Complex enough to where the males, much like the human variety, are prone to telling outrageous lies in order to improve their chances at sex. In order to keep females nearby during their very short estrus, a recent study has observed male topi sounding off fake alarm calls. So basically, whenever female topis looks like they might start to wander away, males yell the equivalent of “OMG LION!”, for the sole purpose of keeping their sex partners from running into the arms of some other antelope who may or may not have a nicer car.
4: Skuas are Airborne Pirates
We all know what thieving jerks seagulls are, but they’re rank amateurs compared to another type of seabird called skuas. These airborne thugs are the masters of avian piracy. Another, more descriptive common name for them is “parasitic jaegers”. Completely devoid of honor, skuas think nothing of stealing the chicks and eggs of other birds. But that’s just the start. Most of their diet is derived from midair robbery. Their favorite tactic (sometimes performed in teams) is to fly around and harass fellow seabirds to the point that they vomit up up their catch. The technical term for this type of behavior is “kleptoparasitism,” in case you were looking for the perfect word to describe certain members of your own family.
5: Cuckoo Bees are Traitorous Usurpers
Cuckoo bees include a variety of differently species that have all independently evolved the same despicable method of reproduction — just like the birds for which they’re named, these bees are brood parasites.
First, a cuckoo female finds a suitable hive full of unsuspecting dupes. She will either sneak in and wait awhile to acquire the smell of the other bees, or go straight for the queen and murder her straightaway. If there’s any suspicion, cuckoo queens are built tough enough to survive and triumph in confrontations with the workers. Once the invading mother gets her eggs laid, the hive will take over all the work of cuckoo baby care. This scenario will inevitably spell doom for the hive, as more and more resources are consumed with nothing given in return.
Some cuckoo species up the evil ante by eating their host’s eggs and larvae, then filling in the empty spaces with their own eggs. Then when the cuckoo eggs hatch, the larvae join in on the feast.
6: Brown Trout Fake Orgasms
Trout sex can be a tricky affair, and the timing of the thing has to be just right. As soon as a female drops her eggs onto the stream bed, the male has to be right there to simultaneously release his sperm for the best chances at success. But since all this takes place without the pair actually coupling physically, any old random doofus of a male can wander by and attempt to be the fish baby daddy. To counter this, the females of one species of trout exert some control over the situation by doing their best Meg Ryan impressions and faking orgasms.
When a male and female trout are poised and ready to get down to the business of spawning, both parties “quiver violently with their mouths open,” signaling their impending climax. But oftentimes the females never drop their eggs at all, leaving the males confused as they wander off and presumably lie to their friends. Meanwhile the female is still primed and ready to go, in hopes that a more attractive option will swim by. And these females are apparently very picky. A Swedish study found that brown trout females were faking it a whopping 69 (ha!) times out of 177 interactions observed.
7: Sabre Toothed Blenny Poses as a Friend, Bites Your Face
Aspidontus taeniatus is a small species of blenny fish from the Indo-Pacific that looks and acts remarkably like another fish in the area, the cleaner wrasse. In fact they’re called “false” cleanerfish, such is the resemblance. But while cleaner wrasse are a friendly sort that help out larger fish by the nibbling their parasites off (in exchange for not being eaten), the blenny isn’t quite as helpful. Any fish approached a blenny expecting a refreshing day at the spa might instead be treated to a viscous chomping by the tiny impersonator. This would explain their other name, the “sabre-toothed” blenny. After removing a chunk of face or fin from the designated mark, the blenny then hightails it to cover while the soon-to-be disgruntled customer is still dazed. Usually the blenny can only get away with this on juvenile fish, as older ones that have already fallen victim to their shenanigans often recognize the impostors and angrily pursue them. Nonetheless, this type of behavior surely leaves the poor cleaner wrasse with a lot of explaining to do.
8: Pearl Fish Lives in Its Host’s Anus, Occasionally Nibbles on Its Gonads
Parasites aren’t generally a pleasant lot, but in terms of sheer intrusive rudeness it’s hard to beat the pearlfish. Not all pearlfish are parasites mind you, but those in the genus Carapus are, and a few species in that genus spend their lives abusing the lowly sea cucumber. These particular pearlfish actually live inside the cucumbers, specifically in… their anus. Usually they’re content to poke their heads out from their cozy rectal hidey hole and feed on whatever’s nearby. But when times are lean they’ve been known to chew through the abdominal wall of their host and feast on the cucumber’s gonads. It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs for the cucumbers, but in response some have been evolving a defense that’s just the thing for this type of situation: anal teeth.
9: Butterflies Act Cute to Steal Turtles’ Tears
It may be hard to imagine a butterfly being mean, but that’s only because you haven’t been around one while you were crying. Sodium is sometimes in short supply in places like the Amazon basin, and in order to get it butterflies will gleefully molest other animals to gain access to their delicious, salty tears. While some animals, like parrots, congregate at mineral deposits to gain access to the mineral, butterflies appear to prefer taking advantage of others’ sadness. Turtles are a frequent target, being as they’re so slow and perhaps often chronically depressed.
10: Alligators and Crocodiles Use Nesting Materials to Trick Birds
One would think alligators and crocodiles are capable enough killers without having to resort to underhanded measures. But the world’s largest reptiles are perfectly willing to act like complete tools to get a meal. And it turns out they’re capable of using tools as well. In order to trick birds into choosing the worst landing spot possible, new research has shown that crocodiles will sometimes put small sticks inside their gaping, toothy mouths. Birds will see these sticks as potential building material for their nests and once they reach in to retrieve one, WHOMP. This is the first documented case of reptiles using tools, and it’s probably only a matter of time until these massive beasts learn about the seductive power of candy.