Society seems to be fascinated by zombies, don’t you think? If one were to drag its feet to our doorstep we’d make sure to take a video at least ten seconds long before taking an axe to its head or taking off, depending on our melee skill.
Despite what Hollywood might have led us to believe, turning into a zombie is pretty much impossible unless you really pissed off voodoo witch doctor/Umbrella Corporation Chairman. That would be nigh impossible as well. But if you were an inferior animal, your chances of zombification would increase exponentially. As it turns out, in true simpsonian fashion, Nature already did it. In your best Attenborough voice, read this:
“Let us now delve into the fascinating world of insects turning into mindless zombies!”
Moth Sex Addicts
(I honestly never thought I’d ever type this.)
Let’s start with the lightest case. Corn earworms or Helicoverpa zea moths, if you fancy binomial nomenclature are your ordinary run-of-the-mill corn parasites. And since there’s no such thing as honor among parasites, they sometimes get infected with the Hz-2v virus after doing the nasty. Because the virus is sexually transmitted, it really wants its hosts to get laid. Therefore, it messes with the female moths’ pheromone production centers, increasing production sevenfold. It also sterilizes the females, turning them into promiscuous and infertile virus carriers. Damn, Nature, you scary!
Wasp vs. Ladybug
Next, we’ve got ladybugs. Their bright colors are a defense mechanism that lets predators know they taste awful. That is the exact reason why a parasitic wasp known as Dinocampus coccinellae chooses ladybugs as a living nursery for its larvae. Parenting in the insect world is so charming! The female wasp uses its ovipositor to make a single egg deposit in the ladybug’s tummy. In less than a week, the egg hatches and the wasp larva settles right in. If it finds any ladybug eggs inside its host, it eats them. The larva then siphons off the ladybug’s nutrients. It doesn’t kill it, it just keeps leeching for up to a month. During this time, the ladybug is very much alive, actively feeding for two.
After one month, the larva cuts the nerves that control the ladybug’s legs, paralyzing the poor thing. It doesn’t kill it because it still needs the ladybug to move slightly and appear alive to any potential predators. The larva then digs itself out of the ladybug’s belly and builds a cocoon between its legs. A week later, a wasp comes out of the cocoon, ready to go psycho on another ladybug’s ass, perpetuating this horrendous cycle. Again, damn you, Nature, you scary!
If you felt bad for the ladybugs, save some sympathy for the crickets. Crickets eat mosquitoes. I already like them. When they were young, some of these mosquitoes fed on the larval form of horsehair worms. You can see where this is going. When these worms find themselves inside a cricket, they start feeding on their internal organs. Leading a comfortable life inside its host, the worms can reach lengths of up to a foot. Imagine if you were walking around carrying a 40-foot coil of rope inside your abdomen. Better yet, don’t imagine that. Too late? I’m really sorry!
The worm needs to return to the water so it produces copious amounts of neurotransmitters, altering the behavior of the cricket. While healthy crickets avoid water, the mind-controlled ones jump right in and drown. The worm is then free to eat its way out and happily wriggle in search of a mate. Yay, everybody wins! Except the crickets.
Ants Out of Their Minds
The life of an ant boils up to this: work in a clockwork society. We could learn a great deal from these tiny arthropods. But if there’s one lesson we should pick up, that would be to stay the fuck away from mind controlling fungi. Iqpill, your daily source for valuable life advice.
A species of carpenter ants living in the forests of North America shares a gruesome relation with a parasitic fungus from the genus Ophiocordyceps. Carpenter ants usually inhabit trees. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis usually inhabits the forest floor. Therefore, when it infects a carpenter ant, it modifies its behavior so that the ant leaves its tree house and searches for a leaf on the forest floor. The ant bites down on the underside of the leaf and is then killed by the parasite. What comes next is a stunning display of Nature’s creepiness, featured in the video below:
The stalk that grows out o the back of the ant’s head starts spreading spores, perpetuating the fungal kill spree.
A Snail’s Worst Fate
If you’re squeamish, I should bid you goodbye. Seriously, this one’s gruesome.
Still here? Good! Snails live following simple creeds: use your shell as shelter and stay out of sunlight and open spaces, unless you want to get eaten. Would a snail want to get eaten? No. Would a blind one choose to end it all? No.
But the green-banded broodsac (Leucochloridium paradoxum flatworm) doesn’t care because it’s a maniac. The flatworm lives inside bird intestines. Naturally, its eggs are found in bird droppings. Amber snails aren’t very picky and should it cross paths with a bird crap, it would happily munch on it. Once the eggs make it inside the snail, they hatch into larvae, quickly infesting their host. Next, they grow into sporocysts (broodsacs) and eat the insides of the snail’s eyestalks. The newly-created housing is then occupied by young flatworms.
Blinded, the snail wanders into sunlight which is exactly what the flatworms wanted it to do. The worms are sensitive to light and start pulsating and wriggling. Their movement increases with light intensity. To a bird, the twitching eyestalk would look like a caterpillar. Sometimes the snail is lucky and gets eaten whole, ending its miserable life. If it’s unlucky, the bird will only eat its eyestalk. Sooner or later, the stalk grows back and the snail is doomed to repeat the cycle until it finally dies. Promethean punishment for molluscs, everybody!