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There really are creatures stranger—and more terrifying—than science fiction.
Lurking in lakes all over the planet is a predator with fearsome jaws that could rival the xenomorphs from the Alien universe. Maybe it could even take on the Predator. At least the glassworm, which is the spawn of a fly called the phantom midge (creepy enough) isn’t going to start feasting on humans anytime soon, but what researchers just discovered about how it captures prey is going to keep you up at night.
Sure, a xenomorph might have teeth, but the appendages on this thing’s mouthparts make the thing that devoured the crew of the Nostromo look like a Halloween costume. When a research team turned their camera on these fearsome larvae, they saw things that should never be seen. Like how the glassworm has one of the fastest attacks in the animal kingdom. Or how it captures water fleas and zooplankton by extending those weapons it hides in its mouth and trapping them in a deadly “basket.”
Not bad for an otherwise unnoticeable life form just a fraction of an inch long.
The researchers, who recently published their findings in the journal PLOS, were able to see just how ferocious the glassworm is for the first time by recording them snatching up water fleas with high-speed video and CT (computed X-ray tomography) scans.
They then built 3D computer models of those freaky mouthparts. Antennae with serious grasping power, a bristly finger-like structure, knife hairs with more bristles, spiked “thorns,” and crushing mandibles were all identified up close.
Glassworm attacks were also witnessed in gory detail for the first time. Doomed water fleas that came too close had no chance. The glassworm’s “basket” would rapidly open outward and then contract, crushing the prey into its mouth. It was basically 14 milliseconds of a Lovecraftian nightmare vision, with friction that was so intense that the water fleas would sometimes burst. You really can’t make this stuff up.
Even prey can unleash a comeback. As if this didn’t get any scarier, water fleas are armed with neck teeth. Literal teeth snap out of their necks when they sense a threat. Glassworms are so fast that they often succeed at getting the water fleas in their crushing grip and past the point of no return before any retaliation can happen, but if the flea lashes out with its neck teeth fast enough, the glassworm will only have a 50% chance at dinner.
Just hope no one comes up with a way to enlarge these critters like the cockroaches in Mimic, because if a glassworm had enough of a growth spurt to get to the size of a xenomorph, Earth would be shrieking with horror-movie deaths.