Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Toxic Nudibranchs and Parasitic Wasps: there is nothing so alien as life on earth

[Warning: if you read this post it will be like taking the Matrix red pill.  If you choose to swallow the red pill, you can't go back, you go down the rabbit hole and your life is forever changed. Swallow the blue pill and you can leave now, your comfortable life in tact.  But if you choose the red pill... well... I warned you.]

OK.  Red pill it is.

Here we go.  Extra-terrestrial life forms have landed on earth.  And they are not being kept at Area 51.   Or any other government installation.  Just look to the seafloor and you'll find proof positive that aliens live among us.  Specifically nudibranchs.  Take a peak at this National Geographic gallery of toxic nudibranchs and this article, wipe the drool from your mouth, pull your jaw off the floor, then return.   

Nudibranchs are gastropods that have naked branches ("gills") hanging off their backs (hence the "nudi"), many with outlandish color schemes that appear to be a defense mechanism.  But their alien characteristics are not just that they look stranger than anything that sci-fi has yet to produce. Some nudibranchs are Borg-like, assimilating weaponry and technology of other species into their own toxic arsenals.   Many nudibranchs eat critters that have toxic weapons (stingers, nematocysts, poisons) then secrete the previously digested arsenal when attacked.

The 3,000+ species of nudibranchs are not content just to visit earth.  Their super-secret plan for world domination includes reproductive cycles where up to 2 million eggs are laid at a time. And the option for hermaphroditic reproduction in some species.

OK, I'm being a tad over-dramatic with the Matrix allusion.  And the course of your life probably isn't unalterably changed.  But seriously, nudibranchs are some of the oddest creatures alive.

If, however, you do want to be creeped out by a Red Pill/Blue Pill experience, do some investigating into parasitic wasps, and your life will forever be changed.  Not Exactly Rocket Science has some spine-tingling descriptions of these wasp species which must be alien. With the parasitic wasps, I'm exaggerating about the creepiness, but not much.  Life is much nicer without the knowledge that, in the words of Ed Young:

Parasitic wasps make a living by snatching the bodies of other insects and using them as living incubators for their grubs. Some species target caterpillars, and subdue them with a biological weapon. They inject the victim with "virus-like particles" called polydnaviruses (PDVs), which weaken its immune system and leave the wasp grub to develop unopposed.

There is nothing so alien as life on earth.

10 Bonus Points if you tell me about other examples of alien life among us.  I've taken the Red Pill already, so I have nothing more to loose.  And so have you if you've read this far.


  1. There are some microbes that can live in the heat of a volcano, some even think they swim through lava. Not much can survive heat like that. Those things you have pictures of look so creepy. Nice post

  2. I gotcha covered, Brian. Check out aphids, which can squeeze self-made clones as live births (as opposed to eggs). Per Wikipedia: "Thus one female hatched in spring may produce many billions of descendants. For example, some species of cabbage aphids (like Brevicoryne brassicae) can produce up to 41 generations of females, or more than 1.5 x 1027 offspring if they all live." Yikes!

    One could also include almost any animal native to Australia from the Kangaroo to the platypus (a egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal). And, lest we forget, the panda bear with a digestive system designed for meat but a refusal to eat any but bamboo, a characteristic that puts them at considerable risk as they cannot get the nutrition they need easily.

    How about the Narwhal, the cetacean contribution to the unicorn concept. Or the sea canary or Beluga whale which not only has a distinctive song, but can also swim backwards.

  3. DrBurst, thanks for stopping by. Have any more information about the volcanic microbes? I've heard of the thermophile organisms around "black smoker" vents in the oceans. But swimming through lava is new. I'll fork over the 10 BPs if you can give me a little something more on that.

    Stephanie, I didn't know that the platypus was venomous. You are darn tootin' that they're strange. And aphids... I'm coming to the conclusion that insect life (period) is alien. 10 BPs. Cheers!

  4. Great post Brian! Weird - I only got to see the Matrix from beginning to end yesterday (believe it or not!) so the double image of Neo staring out of Morpheus' glasses freaked me out this morning when I tuned in to your blog!

    Michael didn't come back to debate with me any more over Greek Philosophy and giant leaping Christian scientists etc., which is too bad coz I was finally starting to learn a bit of history and philosophy! But surely there is a debate here about God, the aesthetic beauty of nudibranches and the cruelty of parasitic wasps etc...

  5. Newton's Ocean, I watched the Matrix 4 times in one weekend when I first saw. Such a great movie on many levels. Didn't care too much for the sequels, but that's typical.

    Regarding aesthetics, I just saw a GK Chesterton quote that hits the nail on the head for me, "The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."

    As a scientist, I have a drive to "figure stuff out" and find answers. I want to dig deep and uncover the mechanics for how/why the world works.

    As a Christian, there are many times that I look into a night sky, or look at a nudibranch and just be startled and awed at the complexity. And am satisfied.

    I have a feeling that the roots of the wasp cruelty discussion burrow deep into the "existence of evil" soil when approached from a philosophical viewpoint.

  6. You know, when you get to the end of my book, you'll be faced with some of that question. I got bugs, you know.

  7. I got used to the alienness of insects as a child, reading Henri Fabre's books. He found more than strangeness; he also found beauty. I took the red pill pretty early on.

  8. Stephanie, I'm just hoping the bugs are cute and in nice little cages. I'm on the third chapter.

  9. Catana, thanks for stopping by. I haven't read any Henri Fabre, but sounds like my kinda author. There's incredible beauty in the nudibranchs. Salvador Dali couldn't come up with anything to match the weirdness, nor the stunning palette of these critters.

    I'm still struggling to find the beauty in the parasitic wasps though.

    I hope you keep checking in from time to time Catana.


  10. One of my favorite groups of weird life forms are the Cordyceps fungi:

  11. Michael, are these the same fungi that were featured on the Discover "Planet Earth" series? If so, they are too strange and more than creepy. I'm glad that they haven't taken to snacking on people. Thanks for the reminder (I think...) 10 BPs!!!

  12. Indeed they are the same, Brian. They are also the indispensable hook for getting my students interested when we study fungi. "If they can do that, they must be kind of cool."

    Of course, I personally like fungi because they are tasty, especially sauteed with some olive oil and garlic ... mmmmm.

  13. I think part of what is spooky about the Planet Earth fungi footage is that it is sped up. Things seem more hostile when they move at a pace that we're not accustomed to. Ivy, for instance, would be scary if it spread at a much faster rate. When you watch stop action footage of plants, it doesn't take much imagination to imagine them as predatory.

  14. Very interesting, Me, I'm an alien life form, my wife and oldest daughter say I'm a sleeper alien, I'm going to be walking around one day, hear some strange music, meet somewhere with other aliens and overtake the world,lol

  15. Bob, hopefully you're not Borg. Or Cylon.

    I prefer Alf.

    Or Mork.

  16. Don't forget, my husband and I are magnetic.

  17. Does that qualify you as alien?

  18. Regarding parasitic wasps- they have been around for a while but what has cougyt my eye is that some of these wasps have now migrated north from south america and there is some evidence out there that in certain cases mutations may have occurred specifically in Uruguay where ther is ample harmful pesticide supply from China.

    there is also a very large body of UFO sightings additionally for whta that is worth. The trail leads to a parasitoid wasp that may carry meningitis and that has migrated to north america. In certain cases this wasp uses cave spiders as its host to reproduce and in the caves also dwell bats. There is a a serious die off of bats occurring in north america and the suspicion is it may be meningitis that is killing them.

    Connect those dots and think...


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