I love monster movies. From Godzilla to the Giant Claw to the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the alien cockroach robots from the X-Files, a good story about creepy creatures really pulls my interest. Sometimes, though, a terrible story pulls my interest just as much. But… what if there were monsters as terrifying as the Xenomorphs or Pumpkinhead in real life? Not some oversized snakes that, while you may be terrified for them, they aren’t likely to actually hurt you. What if there were real, monsterous beings living all around us? You’re in luck! There totally are evil things that go bump in the night… Fortunately, most of them are tiny and very few of them are literally spawned from the deepest pits of hell. Just be prepared for your brain to be eaten.
The candiru is both the least likely to attack you and also the most painfully funny animal on this list. In nature, the candiru is a little catfish that hooks itself onto the gills of big fish. That isn’t that awful if you aren’t a fish, right? Well, at least a couple of people have had these fish swim into their genitals as they swam in a river. The fish seem to hunt their hosts by visual means. Sometimes they make a mistake. Those mistakes mean a fish with pointy, jabbing barbs has now swam into your privates looking for a free meal.
Botfly adults don’t bite, sting, or do much of anything. They don’t have to. They have one job and one job only: to find a host and drop their beloved children off onto that host. Those children are writhing, carnivorous maggots. Most botflies drop their babies off onto things like deer, elk, or cows. Creepy enough, but not dangerous to us. Ah, but Dermatobia hominis likes to drop their babies onto people. These maggots then burrow into your skin, start eating it away, and create painful, swollen lumps that only stop when the maggot pupates, becomes and adult, and ruptures out of your skin. And these maggots really like the soft areas of your skin. Maybe an eyeball. Maybe an ear. The good news is most countries have eradicated this painful, parasitic fly. The bad news is that people can occasionally still get other botfly to land on and infect them. So, maybe don’t wipe your eyeballs when you’re at a petting zoo… Unless you want to hear a maggot crunching your eyeball.
Kissing bug is another name that doesn’t sound so bad. Sure, most bugs are ugly, but some are cute! Some bugs are beautiful, iridescent, and harmless. So kissing one of them isn’t so bad. Thankfully the kissing bug isn’t a cute little plant hopper. Kissing bugs are related to the predatory assassin bugs but instead of finding and killing grasshoppers and such, these guys find your as you sleep, stab you in the face, and suck your blood. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, this six-legged vampires spread Chagas disease with their sleep assaults. Chagas disease is luckily preventable and only found in the American tropics. The scary part, though, is that it slowly eats away at your heart… Just like a real kiss.
Everyone who has ever been in a creek, pond, or lake has probably found a leech on themselves. Leeches are usually tiny and squish in a finger. They are usually looking to have a meal of blood, fall off, and disappear without much harm to their host. In fact, some leeches are used in medicine to draw blood into reattached limbs and things. Not that scary, if a little creepy. Oh, but wait! Some leeches can’t be avoided by not walking around in stagnant ponds. Some leaches craw, end-over-end like inchworm from Sesame Street, tracking their pray through moist forests and bogs around the world. Some of these leeches are up to about a foot long, crawl onto you as you sleep in your tent, and feed away. Some of these leeches are tracking you. Right. Now.
CUTANEOUS LARVA MIGRANTS
Cutaneous larva migrants (CLM) are an entire class of animals, usually minute parasites that end up in your body and wander around just under your skin, creating painful, itchy tunnels. Usually this happens when a parasite makes a mistake and deposits its kids on the wrong host. Those larval babies don’t know what to do in a person because you aren’t, say, a cat or a fish, so they wander around scrapping away at your flesh until they die. So, that isn’t scary enough? They can be easily treated and are extremely rare? Fine… How about…
VISCERAL LARVA MIGRANTS
Perhaps some visceral larva migrants (VLM) are more to your liking, horror fan. Instead of just being a tiny parasite that causes some itchy, pussy spots, these guys go full out. They are things like flukeworms that usually end up in the wrong host and then proceed to wander inside your body, maybe eating away at some liver before they form a dangerous cyst in your brain. These VLM can do more damage than a small infection on your foot, too. VLM can cause heart problems if they end up stuck in a valve, or maybe cause a stroke when they park themselves in your brain to die. And VLM aren’t rare at all. In some counties, as many as 80% of children have suffered from VLM associated with common dog and cat parasites. Thanks, Fluffy.
Bat flies luckily don’t infest people. But, unluckily, they infest the poor bats who are stuck with them. I personally love bats and think they’re fascinating, cute creatures. Some people are afraid of them. Now, imagine if those bats had giant, face-sizes spider-looking creatures sucking blood out of their faces. That’s a bat fly. Flightless and eyeless, these flies live their lives on their suffering hosts. It’s basically the equivalent of a human being having a fist-sized, wingless housefly sucking delicious juices from your noggin and you can’t do anything to stop it. Sweet dreams.
The tongue-eating louse (Cymotha exigua) does exactly what you imagine a thing called a tongue-eating louse. These horrifying parasites are related to the completely friendly common roly poly or pillbug, but with one brutal difference. Instead of just feeding on decaying plants or small animals like most other isopods – think round, multi-legged crustaceans – do, these guys literally eat the tongue of fish and replace that eaten tongue with their own body. They live inside the fishes lead, stealing food and pretending to be a creepy tongue. Imagine a big, insectoid creature eating away your tongue and then hooking itself onto it as it lives, breeds, and dies…
So, sue me: Nagleria fowleri isn’t actually an animal. It’s a one-celled amoeba. If you aren’t much of a science person that means it’s a tiny little blob that swims around and eats other tiny little blobs. At least that’s what most amoebas do, living in water or moist soil and feeding on smaller one-celled folks trying to eke out a living. Nagleria fowleri thought that was too mainstream… sometimes. See, most of the time they do just that, leaving us alone. Sometimes, though… Sometimes the brain-eating amoeba decides to eat your brain. On a warm summer day you take a swim in a hot, unchlorinated pool. Maybe you take a dip in some water near a discharge pipe. These guys love hot water, being thermophilic and all. They swim into a nose or an eye. Hey! Look at all the big, juice cells. There’s no competition. There’s no organisms to eat them. These amoebas start to chomp down on your delicious brain, eating away until you are straight up dead. First, you get a headache. Then you’re in a coma. Then you’ve died because you wanted to take a relaxing dip in a pool.
The creepiest part of the life of our amoeba friend is that it’s common. They are all over the United States. Fatality is over 90% if you get a brain infection. It’s most common in the Southeastern US, though, so maybe avoid any light night skinny dipping at places that look a little too much like Crystal Lake.