Just in case you didn't already think that insects were terrifying/awesome enough, here is a delightful collection of bugs that we are lucky enough to live amongst, coupled with some ever so dramatic videos for your viewing pleasure.
Botflies, or members of the Oestridae family, might sometimes look a little bit like a cute bumblebee, but I can guarantee you they’re far from cute. I wouldn’t read this if you’re squeamish.
The larvae of botflies parasitize various different mammals and of course there is a human one, Dermatobia hominis, which can be found throughout Central and South America. The female grabs onto a blood-feeding mosquito mid-flight and sticks her eggs onto it, then off it goes on its merry way in search of a delicious human to go and irritate the heck out of. As the mosquito takes its bloody dinner, the eggs react to the change in temperature and hatch, slithering into the bite wound or nearby hair follicles and burrowing through the skin using hooked mouthparts.
Image credit: Geoff Gallice, via Wikimedia Commons.
The larva then sets up camp in the subcutaneous tissue and chows down on tissue exudates (fluid produced in response to damage), growing up to a few centimeters in size. At this stage, the larva can often be seen as a lump under the skin with a small lesion on top and sometimes it can be felt moving around under the skin (*shudder*). While some lucky individuals can pop the live larva out like a nasty pimple, others require surgery to remove it due to the fact that they’re covered in spines- nice. Some poor people have even had these gross things in their eyes. If you can stomach it, check out this video of a botfly larva removal:
Fun fact for you all, our editor Elise Andrew was infected by one of these when she was traveling in South America. Hers wasn't quite as impressive as the one in the picture above though.
Japanese Giant Hornet
These ferocious winged devils are a subspecies of the Asian Giant Hornet that are endemic to Japan. They can grow to be 2 inches in length and don a quarter-inch stinger that injects venom that can not only dissolve human flesh, but can also attack the nervous system. They can also fly at speeds of up to 25 mph and have ranges of up to 60 miles, so don’t try and run away from one- you’ll lose.
These insects are known for being particularly aggressive and fearless, especially towards European honeybees which are often kept by Japanese farmers. If a hornet comes across a hive it will mark it with pheromones so that others in the area can be alerted of its presence. Then the horrible massacre begins. The hornets swarm the hive en masse, dismembering the defenseless bees with their sharp appendages (mandibles). A single hornet can chop up around 40 bees per minute! In a mere 3 hours a team of hornets can shred a whopping 30,000 bees, leaving a pile of heads and limbs. The hornets then lap up the honey and chew the thoraxes into bite-size pieces and feed them to their larvae. Don’t mess with these guys.
Image credit: Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons.
Africanized Honey Bee
These bees have earned themselves the nickname “killer bees” because of their extremely aggressive protective behavior, and of course the fact that they’ve killed a few people.
The Africanized honey bee is a subspecies of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) that was bred in the 1950’s by Brazilian scientists. They crossed the European honey bee with the African honey bee in order to produce a hybrid that can produce honey in tropical climates, and it escaped-oops. It then established feral colonies throughout South America and then spread into southwestern US.
Image credit: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, via Wikimedia Commons.
The thing about these bees is that they are super protective of their colonies, and if you disturb them you’re in big trouble. They have five times as many guards in their nests as European honey bees and they’re easily agitated and very quick to react; much faster than other bee species. They also swarm more frequently and chase victims for up to half a mile. If you disturb a European honey bee colony you might get around 20 stings, but if you tick these guys off you might end up with the best part of an entire colony of bees after you that can sting you hundreds of times. In fact, one man survived an attack that left him with over 2,000 stings! (And multisystem organ failure…)
Check out this video from the BBC to see how easy it is to provoke an attack:
These guys (Paraponera clavata) are found in rainforests throughout Central America and some of South America. They don’t look like a bullet, so why are they nicknamed bullet ants? Because their sting is so painful that you feel like you’ve been shot, of course. In fact, they have another nickname, “Hormiga veinticuatro,” or the 24 hour ant because the agonizing pain lasts that long. The sensation has been described as “Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.” Yowch.
Furthermore, these things are apparently used by an indigenous tribe in Brazil in initiation ceremonies. They fill a glove with these ants and a boy puts his hand into it for at least 10 minutes while they sting the heck out of it. The boys get stung so bad that their hands are sometimes temporarily paralyzed. This is carried out around 20 times over a year before the boy is initiated into adulthood. Rather them than me.
Image credit: Erin Mills, via Wikimedia Commons.
The behavior seen in some species of assassin bug wouldn’t be out of place in Game of Thrones.
There are many different species of so-called assassin bugs (within the Reduviidae family), some of which can transmit disease to humans such as Chaga's disease. They've earned themselves this nickname because they are known to attack quickly and rather violently. After killing their prey by stabbing them with their long, sharp beaks (called a rostrum), these bugs inject enzymes into prey which softens the insides, ready to be sucked out like a delicious organ smoothie. One particular species found in Malaysia (A. petax) even glues the empty corpses onto its back using sticky secretions, wearing them as a form of armor. I sure as hell would not mess with something covered in dead bodies, jeez.
Image credit: Orionmystery, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Jewel Wasp, or Emerald Cockroach Wasp (Ampulex compressa), will make you even more glad that you are not a cockroach. It’s a parasitoid wasp that uses cockroaches as a live food supply for its developing larva, and it manages to coax this poor unsuspecting bug into playing host in a very scary up way.
Image credit: Axel Rouvin, via Wikimedia Commons
The jewel wasp starts off the attack by stinging the cockroach around the midsection, paralyzing the front legs. Now that the cockroach can’t do much, the wasp goes for a second, more precise sting into the head, injecting venom directly into the victim’s brain. While several mind-manipulating organisms exist, the jewel wasp is the only known parasite that injects venom directly into the brain of a host. The venom blocks a particular neurotransmitter called octopamine which controls its motivation to walk. Although the cockroach is not entirely paralyzed, it loses the will to escape and is effectively turned into a zombie nursery.
The wasp then drags the enslaved cockroach into its underground lair and lays an egg into the roach’s abdomen. This then hatches and eats the host’s insides while it is still alive (they rot quickly when dead, and no one wants to eat rotting insides). The cockroach dies about 8 days later, after which the larva forms a snug cocoon, ready to emerge around a month later. Lovely.
Check out this video of the whole process:
So, these insects aren’t really scary when you compare them to the previous insects, but if you stumbled upon something this huge whilst taking a stroll I bet you’d let out a squeal.
These guys (genus Deinacrida) are found in New Zealand and can grow to be three times the weight of an average house mouse, making them one of the world’s heaviest insects. In 2011, the largest weta documented so far weighed in at 71 grams. For some reason, the discoverer decided to feed the insect a carrot (as shown in header image), as one does, which it was able to devour on because it was so freaking huge. Kind of cute in a very, very weird way.