Take a moment to think about the scariest horror movie you've ever seen. Now, get ready, because we guarantee you this story is even scarier. It's the story of a fish that tricks other mothers into raising their babies ... inside their mouths.
The cichlid is a fish that resides in Africa's Lake Tanganyika, the longest freshwater lake in the world.
It is a type of mouthbrooding fish, meaning the mother will actually hold the babies in her mouth. In Lake Tanganyika, the cichlid has to mouthbrood in order to protect her young from rampant predation.
The cuckoo catfish has figured out a way to take advantage of the cichlid's mouthbrooding strategy.
A cuckoo catfish. (Shutterstock)
When the cichlid lays its eggs on the lakebed, the catfish will come in to try to eat them. The cichlid will push the catfish away, but not before the catfish eats a few eggs and lays a few of her own eggs in their place.
The cichlid cannot tell the difference between her own eggs and the catfish eggs, so she will unwittingly scoop all of them up into her mouth.
What follows is the truly horrific part of the story.
Inside the cichlid's mouth, the catfish hatch before the cichlids. The catfish babies gobble up all of the cichlid's defenseless babies while inside her own mouth. When the mother opens her mouth to release her hatched young, the catfish are the only survivors.
To make matters worse (or better — we're not sure), the cichlid still does not know she has been tricked. She'll treat the catfish babies like her own young, scooping them up in her mouth to protect them from predators.
Here's the full National Geographic video that explains the whole twisted scheme:
If any of you reading this are filmmakers, this real-life story ought to be the inspiration for your next script.
A mother tricked into raising someone else's child who kills her own children? Scary movie fanatics would eat that up.