by Ian Fortey
Do you know what the most terrifying thing in nature is? Nature. It's absolutely awful when it wants to be. Sure, we get puppies and mudskippers and whatnot, but then it backdoors you with all manner of sneaky, devious nastiness when and where you least expect it. Plants, for instance. Plants are supposed to sit in the ground and produce delicious potatoes and corn. Instead, some of them are off being photosynthetic conmen.
The Plant That Takes Fake Poops
Take a moment to consider the dung beetle. For you, poop is one of the worst things you can ever deal with, but that little dude is born into a world in which it's the be all and end all of the universe. We hate our own so much that we devised a water-filled chair as an evacuation system to take it away as fast as possible ... and god forbid you ever come across someone or something else's. Ever seen a turd on your floor? That'll ruin your whole day. Unless you're a dung beetle.
Given that a dung beetle asks for literally the least any living thing can ask for in life, you have to feel bad for them when they run afoul of Ceratocaryum argenteum, a plant that has the unmitigated gall to take advantage of the dung beetle's love of poop for its own selfish purposes.
The Ceratocyum produces nuts like any reasonable plant should. But the nuts of this plant look and smell like the turd of an antelope. And while that seems like a weird way to make a living, even for a plant, it's not. Because it makes the dung beetle into the perfect patsy.
Holy crap, that is totally nuts.
Unlike a dandelion which just goes all fluffy and lets the wind spread its seeds, or even a reasonable nut-producing tree which relies on squirrels and birds to spread it around, Ceratocyum dupes the dung beetle into thinking it's found a nice, round turd to push around. So the beetle takes his awesome new find for a walk and presumably discovers at some point that his turd is nothing but a filthy lie. It then abandons it after all the hard work of pushing it around like a little fecal Sisyphus with his boulder. But at that point, Ceratocyum has found new digs and can grow a new plant, while the little bug that just wanted poop -- the one thing no one has ever wanted -- is left empty handed. For shame, nature.
The Figs That Eat Wasps
Have you ever eaten a fig? It's a fruit that thinks it's too good for you but handles being Netwoned pretty well. They're not the most popular thing in the world, but they're not terrible. Well, they are terrible, just not to humans. If you're a wasp, though, that's a different story. Incidentally, thank you for reading The Modern Rogue, wasp. Welcome to the internet!
There's a species of wasp that, for over 30 million years, has been shacking up with figs in the most dysfunctional functional relationship ever. To say it's complicated is an understatement, but to say you're eating a wasp when you're eating a fig is mostly true.
Pictured: Killing machines.
Figs need to be pollinated like any plant. Wasps need a place to lay eggs. That's the groundwork for this creepy relationship. A female fig wasp lands on a fig and one of two things will now happen:
If the fig is "male," the wasp will tunnel into it and lay some eggs. When the eggs hatch, the male wasps' only job is to get the hell out. Blind and wingless, they eat a tunnel out of the fig for the lady wasps, so they can go out and start this process all over again.
If the wasp tunnels into a "female" fig, it's such a tight squeeze that she loses her wings and antennae. There's no way to back out of this deal. But when she gets to the center and expects to find a decent birthing set up, what she finds instead is the biggest bait and switch in wasp history. The female fruit prevents her from laying eggs. But she did manage to pollinate the plant by crawling in. The pollinated fig now releases enzymes that digest the wasp and turn it into protein ... and you just ate yourself a figgy wasp cookie.
The Plant That Stinks Like Panicked Bees
What's your go-to seduction method? A little ham and wine on a Friday night? That thing where you move your feet while music plays ... we think the kids call it "dancing"? Maybe you just crank out rotten bee stank. Lots of options.
The Giant Ceropegia isn't just a cool nickname I have for myself -- it's also the name of a plant that has to trick bugs into pollinating it, because pollination is basically an unpaid internship for bugs. So how does it pull of its little deception? It catfishes some parasitic flies by releasing the panic-stink of a bee.
Not pictured: Stink.
A bee releases a pheromone when it's under attack, presumably to tell his bee buddies it either needs serious backup or to run away because this is a bad neighborhood. Either way, the smell attracts the flies, because to them that "OH GOD, I'M DYING" stench is like a delicious ham in the oven. They love them some dead bee dinner.
When the flies show up for the feast, the plant traps them inside for a spell, during which they can think about what they're now going to have to find for dinner, since there really is no dead bee. They also end up pollinating the flower while they're in there. Buncha suckers.
On the upside, once it has been pollinated, the flower opens up and lets the fly go. Because even though it's a filthy, manipulative liar, it's not a murderer.
The Vine That Hunts By Smell
The Dodder Vine is a kind of the Michael Meyers of the plant kingdom, just silently creeping toward its prey and then stabbing it mercilessly. Minus the stabbing part; it's still just a plant. But, still, a plant that's capable of smelling prey and hunting it down is a pretty impressive plant. Also it kind of does stab its prey, just not with big kitchen knives
The Dodder, sometimes called Strangleweed, Witch's Hair and Devil's Guts, doesn't even have roots when it starts. It's just one strand of thin, green malevolence ... a terror sprout let loose in an unsuspecting garden. It can live for about a week like this, during which time it needs to sniff out a supportive host it can latch onto. And they legit smell their prey out -- researchers wafted scents at its wicked little tendrils, and they would actually move toward whatever smelled best. Given the choice between wheat and tomato, for instance, they move to the tomato's scent.
Once the Dodder finds a plant it likes, it wraps itself around the stalk and sinks itself into the vascular system, sucking nutrients from the host as it grows like some kind of death grip vampire weed. The parts inserted into the host act like the root system, and all nutrients are taken in second hand. It is, essentially, the freeloader roommate of the plant kingdom, constantly taking your stuff from the fridge, even though you clearly labeled it as yours.
The Shape Shifting Vine
As any genre fiction fan knows, a shape shifter is both the coolest and most untrustworthy being in the universe. Unless its name is Odo, because he was boring, and Deep Space Nine fans need to deal with that. Werewolves, that weird lady in Star Trek VI who wasn't really a lady, Mystique ... they're all pretty dope. So you should probably take a moment to appreciate Boquila trifoliolata, the mysterious vine native to Chile and Argentina that chooses to hide in plain sight.
Like most vines, the boquila just creeps its way up other plants and trees. But in order to not look like everyone else, the leaves of the boquila vine will literally change size and shape to mimic whatever plant its crawling up. If the host plant had big, fat frying pan leaves, so too will boquila. If the plant has long, thin, banana-shaped leaves, that's what the boquila vine will change itself to look like.
This makes hipster plants fly into a full-on rage.
Even weirder is that the leaves of the boquila will only match if it's on the host tree, which is to say if you have a six foot long vine and four feet of it is coiled up a tree, that four feet will look like the host tree ... but the two feet still on the ground won't. That section will still have the normal leaves that the vines grow naturally. Somehow, the plant knows what it should look like and where, which is amazing when you consider how long it takes me to coordinate an outfit in the morning ... and I have eyes.
Now some people might wonder how the boquila vine knows what the leaves of its host plant look like, but who has time to question how a plant sees things when you should be wondering if you could make it grow on something like a hat rack and have it mimic a propeller beanie or a trilby.
Like this article? Check out "Man-Made Phenomena That Put Nature To Shame" and "5 Ways Your Brain Is Hard-Wired To Scare The Crap Out Of You".