I’m sure many of you have read the recent news story about the flesh-eating sea bugs. The guy didn’t feel a thing standing in the water, but when he stepped out his (NSFW)feet were savaged into a bloody mess, completely perforated by the creatures.
That may sound bad, but after what I’ve seen, I know it’s going to get a whole lot worse.
If you’re like me, then your reaction went something like this.
1) WTF, gross. I don’t want to look at that.
2) But… a bug did that? Actually that’s kind of cool. I want to see it again.
First of all, I live in Australia, so assuming all the killer jellyfish and snakes weren’t deterrents enough, I’m pretty sure swimming is off the menu for me.
It did give me another idea though. So far I’ve been stubbornly refusing to acknowledge my summer break science project (we just get 6 weeks, unlike the States), but class will be starting up again soon and I had to pick something. What could be more fun than studying flesh-eating bugs?
A little research revealed that the perpetrator was probably Lysianassidae, a family of marine amphipods. They’re a type of detritivore, which means their diet is primarily comprised of decomposing organic matter. As the unusual case recently demonstrated however, they are perfectly adept at shredding living tissue as well.
I actually live pretty close to the beach where it happened, so I figured I’d just collect a water sample for my display, write a report, post some newspaper clippings on a poster board, and voila. All done.
The only tricky part was that I had to go at night. The beach was temporarily closed for an “Environmental Safety Evaluation”, but all accounts online suggested it was an incredibly rare and isolated incident. I figured I wouldn’t even find any of them, but just to be safe I was up to my knees in rubber galoshes and didn’t wade in very far.
I filled a couple glass vials before I got out of the water, but I couldn’t tell much just from eyeballing them. The water was murky, and even though I saw some little critters floating around, they could have been anything. I was all set to hike back to my car when I saw the flashlights scouring the beach.
I wasn’t allowed to be here, so my first instinct was to run. There was nowhere to hide on the open sand though, and I figured they’d spot me as soon as I started to move. All I could do was press myself into the sand and hope for the best.
The beam of light passed right over my head. I clenched my eyes shut, praying they’d missed me.
“All clear, sir.”
“Good.” Deep voice, and gravely like it was obscured from years of smoke. “Back the van up here and keep it moving. We’re going to be in and out in 10 minutes.”
I heard a car pull up nearby in the closed parking lot. I didn’t lift my head because I was terrified that any movement would give me away. I had the feeling that these guys weren’t supposed to be here either, but that might make it even worse for me if I was found.
It sounded like they were dragging something heavy through the sand. I wanted to look so damn bad. I lifted my head just enough to see a massive dolly piled high with bags like fertilizer. It was being pushed across the sand on mounted skies by four men in dark blue overalls.
“It’s going to get a lot more visible when the activating catalyst hits the water,” the gravel voice said. He was an old man, long white hair flowing half-way to his ass. “Line up the bags, and don’t pour them until they’re all open and ready to go. 3 minutes tops, make it happen.”
The men in overalls pulled long bone-handled knives from their belt and systematically slashed the bags open. I strained from my prone position, but I couldn’t see what was inside. Their attention was all diverted though, so this seemed like a good chance to make my escape. I pushed myself up to my hands and knees and started a huddled dash back toward the street.
It must have been close to midnight then. Around 10 seconds later, it felt like noon. A wave of green light overtook me from behind and illuminated the sky into ghastly pale. I stumbled over myself, pitching flat again before looking behind. The men were pouring the bags into the ocean one by one, and where the powder inside met the water an explosive wave of luminescence blasted out like lightning streaking through the waves.
It took my eyes several seconds to adjust before I realized the old man was staring directly at me. Robbed the cover of darkness, I lay stark under his steel gaze. If I had hesitated any longer, I would have been dead.
A loud crack rent the night air and the sand ruptured directly in front of me. Another shot – this time tearing through the air an inch from my shoulder. I was back on my feet, dodging through the palm trees that flourished densely at the end of the beach.
Shouting interspersed the explosions of light behind me. I didn’t trust the open road around my car, so I stayed in the thicket until the shouting passed. A few minutes later I heard the roar of the van ripping out of the parking lot. I counted to a hundred before I could breathe evenly again. As far as I could tell, they were gone.
I crept back to the empty beach to try and figure out what the hell happened. The water was still glowing softly green, but it was nothing like the display I’d seen a moment ago. The ocean silently churned and boiled as dark shapes slipped below the surface. Something was feeding on whatever these guys had dumped into the water.
The tracks from the dolly were hastily swept up all the way to the parking lot. It looks like they were in a hurry. Approaching the water, I found a small pile of the powder that had been carelessly spilled onto the beach. I gathered it up in one of my extra vials before hightailing it out of there.
I’m not sure who I could contact and be taken seriously about this, so I resolved to do a little experiment of my own. When I got home I poured my samples of Ocean water into a big mixing bowl and then dumped the powder into the water. Sure enough, there was a bright flash upon contact, although nothing compared with the neon splendor in the ocean. Within about 10 minutes the light had all but completely faded, but even my small sample had begun to boil and churn.
I left the mixture out overnight and went to bed, checking it first thing this morning when I woke up. The bowl was nearly overflowing with squirming dark shapes, each almost four inches long. Rows of razor sharp teeth like needles flashed in the light, and a hundred little legs flailed against the walls of the confined space.
Out of a morbid curiosity I dropped a fried chicken drumstick into the water. One of them attempted to swallow it instantaneously, becoming hopelessly encumbered on the bone. The others wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity, devouring the helpless creature alive. Within seconds even the chicken bone had completely vanished, and all those beady little eyes were turned to fix on me for their next meal. They didn’t get it.
By midday, there were only four of them left. They were eating each other with unrestrained savagery, snapping off the legs of any that swam too close. By evening there was only 3, but they’d grown to almost a foot long. I had to dump them into the bathtub to keep them from getting out. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, but the limited space and meager scraps I’m sustaining them with must limit their growth eventually.
I can only imagine what is going on right now in the vastness of the ocean where they’re free to reach their full potential.