Imagine you are a cricket, hanging out on a log, minding your own business. All of a sudden, a grotesque snot net envelops your entire body, rendering you unable to flee. Condolences: You've been slimed by a velvet worm, one of nature's oldest and weirdest creatures. The end is near, you are food, and life is cruel.
You can see why the velvet worm's incredible slime-shooting powers are so terrifying from the POV of its insect prey. But for physicists like Andres Concha, a professor at Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago, Chile, this bizarre ability offers fascinating insights into several fields, including microscopic fluid dynamics.
In the seven-minute documentary "Secrets of the Slime," released Tuesday, Concha explains how these "fierce little giants" squirt out their viscous jets of deadly ooze, and why that mechanism could be valuable in applications ranging from nanofiber production to drug manufacturing.
In addition to summarizing his research, the film splices in high-resolution footage of the worms sliming it up in the wild and in the lab.
"The adaptation is unique in nature," Concha says in the short. "Physics is doing something there, and it's interacting with biology, and allows this worm to prevail. Just from observing these little chubby worms, and quantifying what they do, you could get new technology."
Indeed, considering that the velvet worm clan (Onychophora) first emerged on Earth nearly 500 million years ago, it's not surprising that they've picked up a few show-stopping tricks along the way. Harnessing the power of their snot guns will not only shed light on the worm's rich evolutionary past, it can also inform the future of human microtechnologies.
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