For the first time, BBC filmmakers in the forests of Borneo's Mount Kinabalu have documented the so-repulsive-it's-captivating behavior of a large, red, worm-guzzling predator as part of their upcoming new series "Wonders of the Monsoon". While the predator remains unclassified by science, the animal is known to the area's tribespeople, fittingly, as the "Giant Red Leech."
The Giant Red Leech is one of the biggest in the world. The specimen captured on camera was around 30cm long but experts believe they could grow larger.
They have grown so big that they no longer simply suck blood but now actively hunt giant blue worms and suck them down like spaghetti. The worm it is eating is a whopping 78cm.
The new footage shows the leech detecting a worm's trail and following the scent like a sniffer dog.
When it encounters its prey it quickly latches on and moves its lips up and down the iridescent blue body.
"It was either searching for an end to grab, or was working out whether it was too big to eat" said documentary director Paul Williams.
"When it found an end it started to suck. It was incredible."
That this ambitious leech is roughly half the length of the worm it's eating only makes the footage more impressive.
A big thanks to Paul Williams and the Giant Red Leech for this fascinating footage – and for ruining spaghetti for everyone, forever.
Video is via BBC documentary Wonders of the Monsoon
Wonders of the Monsoon will air on BBC 2 at 8pm on Sunday October 5th:
Series producer Paul Bradshaw said: “This is natural history set in the planet's most glorious and dramatic theatre - the lands of the monsoon.
“It's an incredibly rich mixture of extraordinary creatures, great and small, with some of the planet’s most colourful and ancient cultures, all bound together through the story of this rampaging weather system.”
Compare the end-on technique of the Giant Red Leech with the side-bite employed by this Japanese Mountain Leech:
The ant pictured below comes from entomologist, blogger and insect photographer Alex Wild. The remarkable image of a trapjaw ant, torn asunder to reveal the wriggling, 8-inch parasitic worm living inside. (The ant, by comparison, measures about half an inch long.)
|Infected Ant via Alex Wild|
In the jungles of Belize last January, entomologist Alex Wild noticed something odd about the trap-jaw ants passing through his outdoor insect photography class: They all had shrunken heads and swollen abdomens. A day after making the observation, Wild and his students came upon an ant with a worm bursting out of its side. Parasites were at work. Nematode worms enter the ants as larvae and grow inside the ants' body cavity, siphoning off nutrients and distorting their hosts' natural anatomy. When the eight-inch-long nematodes are ready to mate a few weeks later, they push their way out of their half-inch-long hosts, killing them.
In the abdomen of a trap-jaw ant, a parasitic nematode lives off nutrients from the surrounding fluids and changes the morphology of its host.
The jaws of a parasite-free worker can snap shut on prey in just 1/10,000 of a second—the fastest known mechanical action in nature.
when they're not bursting at the seams with squirming parasites, trapjaw ants are capable of clamping their mandibles shut somewhere in the range of 35 to 64 meters per second (~78–145 miles per hour). The average duration of a trap-jaw clamp is just 0.13 milliseconds, making it among the fastest predatory strikes in the animal kingdom.
Trap-jaw ant, Odontomachus brunneus
In 2006, a team led by UC Berkeley biologist Sheila Patek used high-speed videography to determine that a trap-jaw's mandibles can accelerate at 100,000 times the force of gravity, and exert a force powerful enough to send its body soaring through the air in a defensive maneuver known as an "escape jump" (seen above). Below is another example of a different evasive maneuver (called a "bounce defense jump") with a more horizontal trajectory, from the same study:
This video shows a trap-jaw ant (Odontomachus bauri) that fired its jaws against a hard surface and launched itself into the air (filmed at 3000 frames per second, played back at 30 frames per second).