Were these plants, animals, insects and fungi created by the hand of man? They sure seem like it, looking like horror movie props or works of fine (yet strange) art. Believe it or not, they’re all 100% natural. Mushrooms that resemble teeth streaming with fresh blood, bizarre shiny black objects that wash up on beaches, sea slugs that resemble tiny dragons and caterpillars seemingly straight out of a Tim Burton film are among the 13 amazing treasures you’ll find here.
Bleeding Tooth Fungus
Passing this on a nice hike through the woods, you might wonder for a moment whether you’d stumbled upon a crime scene. Often found at the base of coniferous trees, Hydenellum peckii has a very appropriate common name: Bleeding tooth fungus. It grows in North America, Europe, Iran and Korea and young specimens “bleed” a bright red juice that contains a pigment known to have anticoagulant properties, similar to the drug heparin. But they don’t look like this for long. Older specimens look like ordinary brown mushrooms.
Mermaid’s Purse, Devil’s Purse
Can you guess what these odd-looking things are? They’re not beetles, or shellfish. They’re not made by the hand of man, despite their very plastic-looking exteriors. Alternately calledmermaid’s purses or devil’s purses, these strange bits of organic matter are the egg cases birthed by some species of sharks, skates and chimaeras. Deposited in pairs on the sea floor, these cases are made of collagen protein strands and hold fertilized eggs. Hatchlings are believed to emerge within 9 months. The term ‘mermaid’s purse’ is also used to describe an outer covering of eggs on sea snails that can resemble bubble wrap.
The Flower Hat Jellyfish definitely looks like something an artist came up with for an alien landscape, not like a real, living organism on the planet Earth. This species of jellyfish is found in the West Pacific off Souther Japan. It has a translucent bell with squiggly dark ‘pinstripes’, giving us a fascinating view of its internal parts, as well as pink-tipped tentacles.
Is this little creature incredible or what? Hymenopus coronatus, better known as the Orchid Mantis, has evolved to blend in perfectly with a specific variety of pink orchids in south Asian rain forests. Its four walking legs look just like the flower petals that it stands on, giving it the perfect cover to lurk and wait for fruit flies.
Blue Sea Slug, Glaucus atlanticus
No, that’s not a digital painting of a dragon. It’s the blue sea slug, a tiny marine gastropod mollusk that’s usually less than an inch in length, with dark blue stripes all over its pale silvery-blue body. It preys on larger organisms like the Portuguese Man ‘o War, floating upside down on the surface tension of the ocean and then attaching to its prey and injecting concentrated venom.
Waitomo Glowworm Feeding Threads
When artificial light is cast upon them, these trailing strands glow blue like LED string lights. But they’re actually the feeding threads of the New Zealand glowworm, found in theWaitomo Caves. The glowworm is the larve stage of a two-winged insect, arachnocampa luminosa. The glowworm hangs these sticky bioluminescent threads to attract small insects for food, and to burn off its waste.
Shrunken Head Seed Pods
These little ‘shrunken heads’ could easily be hung around the house for Halloween decor. They’re the seed pods of the Aquilegia plant, commonly known as Columbine, and you might have some buried in the soil outside your house right now.
Brahmin Moth Caterpillar
Looking like an exaggerated cartoon of a scary insect, complete with spikes on its back, this little creature is actually very real. It’s the caterpillar of the Brahmin moth, which, unlike butterflies, transforms into something altogether ordinary and lacking in color.
This is not a prop from the movie Alien, but it is called the Vampire Squid from Hell.Seriously. This rarely-spotted squid is the only known surviving member of its order, the rest of which are extinct. Though small, measuring just bout a foot in total length, it’s quite a dramatic sight with its jet-black to red gelatinous body, beak-like jaws and spiny white filaments. When threatened, the vampire squid can invert to protect itself, as seen in the third photo above.
Osmia Avosetta Bee Nests
Art project? Yes, if you consider the efforts of bees to be artistic, which many do. Osmia avosetta bees are solitary, and rather than building nests together, they create their own little ‘flower sandwiches’ out of petals and mud. They lay their eggs inside, and the larvae feed on pollen and nectar deposited into the chamber by their parent. The baby bees eat their way out of the nest when it’s time for them to be on their own.
Here’s another creature that looks like a cartoon character. The axolotl is a species of salamander native to two lakes in Mexico City, which has evolved to skip the metamorphosis that would normally turn aquatic larvae into land-dwelling creatures. They remain aquatic and gilled. They’re currently critically endangered due to pollution and population growth, as well as lingering demand from humans as a food source.
The strange-looking star-nosed mole looks even more alien in this close-up shot of its highly unusual nose, breathing air bubbles back through their nostrils to smell underwater. High speed video discovered this counter-intuitive ability, which biologists believe enable these animals to find food like earthworms. The ability likely gives the moles a helpful advantage, since they can barely see.
This might just be the craziest-looking creature in all of Earth’s oceans. The anglerfish is definitely nightmarish with its gaping mouth full of spiky teeth, a spiny appendage on its head that is used to attract prey, and other appendages resembling seaweed. Some subspecies are bioluminescent, glowing ominously in the pitch-black waters. The anglerfish can distend both its jaw and its stomach to swallow prey up to twice as large as its own body. Its mating ritual is the strangest thing of all about this creature: tiny males attach onto females like parasites, biting in and releasing an enzyme that digests both her skin and his mouth, fusing the pair down to blood-vessel level. The male then atrophies until nothing is left of him but a pair of gonads, which release sperm when the females release eggs.
7 Wonders of the Plant World: Bizarre Blooms
These aren’t flowers you’d give to your mother. Some smell like feces or rotting corpses, some are incredibly ugly, some are deadly while others are just strange. These 7 extreme flowers include the world’s largest, smallest, stinkiest and most dangerous. Stunning examples of the incredibly unexpected wonders that nature can serve up, the world’s most bizarre blooms entice, amaze and disgust.
World’s Largest Flower, Rafflesia arnoldii
Like a mutant toadstool crossed with man-eating flowers from another planet, Rafflesia arnoldii is red with white speckles and can reach up to three feet in diameter. Oh yeah, and it smells like a dead body. From the time this bizarre bloom forms a bud, exposing the pink undersides of its petals, it is disturbingly flesh-like. Then it opens to reveal itself in all of its glory, emitting an odor of decomposition to attract the flies that will pollinate it and help it spread.
Rafflesia arnoldii is found only in the rainforests of Benkulu, Sumatra Island, Indonesia and Malaysia. It’s the largest single flower on earth, and grows as a parasite on a particular species of vine, wrapping thread-like strands of tissue around its host in order to bleed it of water and nutrients.
The flower is both intensely fascinating and utterly repulsive – especially once you get close enough to notice just how mammalian it really looks, with pimply flesh covered in little hairs and pollen-producing parts that look like pustules.
Prehistoric Desert Flower, Welwitschia mirabilis
It’s hideous, looking like something that died out to sea and washed up on the beach. It’s bizarre. It’s also extremely rare and incredibly unique. The Weltwitschia mirabilis is a flower – that’s right, a flower – found only in the Namib desert within Namibia and Angola. In fact, it’s the latter country’s national flower. Considered a living fossil, weltwitschia is thought to be a holdover from the Jurassic period, when such plants – called gymnosperms – dominated the landscape. Over millennia, similar plants disappeared, but welwitschia managed to survive despite drastic changes to the climate of its environment.
This plant may look like a messy pile of leaves, but it actually only has two, which continue growing throughout the life of the plant, reaching lengths of up to 12 feet. These leaves tend to become ragged and frayed over time, split by the wind and sand to resemble a larger quantity of leaves.
Fleshy Fecal-Scented Parasitic Flower, Hydnora africana
At first, the Hydnora africana looks like a stone, blending in on the desert floor. But then it rises and opens its terrifying maw and you know you’ve come upon something outrageously unusual. What you see of the parasite Hydnora is just the flower of the plant, most of which is hidden underground, interweaving itself among the roots of its host plant, the succulent Euphorbia. The bloom opens in three sections called sepals, revealing a cavity that stinks like feces, luring in dung beetles. This cavity becomes a temporary trap, keeping the beetles inside long enough to enable pollination. The inside of the cavity is pinkish-orange, fleshy and covered in tiny downward-pointing hairs that prevent the beetles from climbing out. Eventually, the bloom opens enough so that the beetles can escape.
World’s Smallest Flower, Wolffia angusta
Nope, that’s not algae, nor is it any ordinary aquatic plant. Wolffia, commonly referred to as watermeal and misidentified as duckweed, is officially the world’s smallest flower, with each bloom weighing about as much as two grains of sand. It takes about 5,000 of these teeny-tiny flowers to fill a thimble, and they’re amazingly small when seen against the grooves in a human fingerprint. Woffia sometimes grow in colonies that form a dense-looking mat on sheltered waters. The only way to identify the exact species of a wolffia flower is to view it under a microscope.
Each wolffia flower has a single pistil and stamen and produces the world’s smallest fruit, called a utricle. It has no leaves, stem or roots, floating freely in quiet freshwater lakes and marshes. Woffia is highly nutritious, serving as food for fish and waterfowl in nature and occasionally cultivated for use as livestock feed or even human cuisine. It’s eaten as a vegetable in Burma, Laos and Thailand.
Black Bat Flower, Tacca chantrieri
Stunningly beautiful, magnificently strange, the black bat flower – Tacca chantrieri – is definitely one-of-a-kind. Not only does it produce black blooms, which is highly unusual in itself, but those blooms are decidedly animalistic with bat-like petal ‘wings’ as well as long ‘whiskers’ that trail up to a foot long. Also known as the devil’s flower, presumably because of its color and strange appearance, the black bat flower also produces odd-shaped blooms in shades of green and purple. This tropical flower can be found in Africa, Madagascar and northeast South America.
World’s Deadliest Flower, Belladonna
There’s a reason that Atropa belladonna is commonly called ‘deadly nightshade’. While it may not hold the official title of deadliest flower in the world (there’s no consensus on that topic), and other flowers like oleander are similarly dangerous, belladonna is notable not only for its ability to kill but for its history and unusual appearance. This perennial herbaceous plant, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, has been used for centuries as a medicine, cosmetic, poison and hallucinogen. Both the foliage and the very juicy and tempting-looking dark purple berries of this plant are highly toxic. The scientific name ‘atropa’ is thought to be derived from that of the Greek goddess Atropos, one of the three fates, who was responsible for determining a man’s death. ‘Belladonna’ is Italian for ‘beautiful woman’.
Ingest any part of the deadly nightshade and you’ll be swallowing atropine, hyoscine and hyoscyamine, substances that cause a series of worsening symptoms from dilated pupils to slurred speech to hallucinations, delirium, convulsions and possibly death. The pupil-dilating part was once considered desirable, hence the name ‘belladonna’, though prolonged usage was known to cause blindness. In Ancient Rome it was used as a murder weapon.
The Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus Titanum
It’s not enough that the titan arum stands taller than an adult male human, or that its stamen is so crazily large and weird-looking that it has earned the flower the scientific name Amorphophallus titanum (essentially, ‘giant misshapen penis’.) No. This insane flower – which also happens to be incredibly beautiful – also has to smell like the rotting corpse of a mammal left too long in the sun. Say hello to what may just be the single weirdest flower in the world.
The titan arum, which grows in the rainforests of Sumatra, is often cultivated in botanical gardens for guests to gawk and gag over. The spadix of the flower, which is the tallest part, is covered in pollen at the top and dotted with bright red-orange carpels, or ovule-producing parts, at the bottom. It has a single petal called a spathe that is pale green and white on the outside and deep burgundy-purple on the inside. Like many other species, the flower emits the scent of rotting meat to attract pollinators.
The tallest bloom in cultivation, grown at the zoological garden Wilhelmina in Stuttgart, Germany, reached 9 feet 6 inches in height.
6 Unusual Plants And Monstrous Blooms
Sometimes it seems like nature has stopped surprising, and every plant and animal has become as mundane and pedestrian as the next. It’s important to keep searching at the boundaries of the plant and animal kingdom in order to keep one’s love of nature as passionate as ever. Here are some unusual and rare plants that will give your enthusiasm a boost.
Sundews are a large family of plants (with nearly 200 members) that are varied in appearance, but all carnivorous. They are known for their dew like drops at the end of tentacles that bristle across the plant. These serve a unique purpose: to trap insects so they can be digested by the plant.
Plants known as “Doll’s Eyes” are named for the disturbing berries that crop up once a year. These small white berries have small marks that appear like pupils, giving the plant an… interesting… appearance.
Titun Arum plants are exceptional mostly for their incredible size. They have the largest inflorescence (shoot where flowers are formed) of any plant species. The flower is also known by the carrion smell it emits.
Nightblooming Cereus flowers grow in deserts with incredibly low water levels, and because of this they can only afford to bloom at night, one or two nights a year.
Rafflesia is a type of plant that parasitically attaches to the roots and vines of other plants, and is mainly visible because of its large flowers, which can weigh up to 22 pounds. These flowers are notable for looking and smelling like rotting flesh, which attracts pollinating flies.
The American Pitcher Plant populates the eastern seaboard of the United States and supplements its nutrition by trapping and digesting insects in its large, steep stem.