Real life zombies
Mind-control venoms, parasitic wasps, brain-infecting fungi: all give their host zombie-like characteristics. “Another outrageous zombie article,” you’re probably thinking. But if you thought zombies weren’t actually real, you’ve been looking in all the wrong places. This isn’t your average, Hollywood grown rage virus. These are real, brain-infecting parasites; they seek out a host, control its behavior, and alter its anatomy in order to survive. Sure, a zombie epidemic of human proportions seems doubtful, but the fact of the matter is: bacteria and fungi have been taking hosts to survive for years. And as humans, well, we could very well become quite suitable hosts in the future. Perhaps nature is giving us clues, signs as to what is to come. In those countless populations who lack modern medical knowledge, antibiotics, and vaccines, a “zombie” virus could very easily take hold.
Ant vs. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus that infects carpenter ants in the tropical rainforest canopy of Thailand. Once infection is initiated, the fungus alters chemicals in the ant’s body to affect the brain and change behavior. The ant travels to an ideal spot (in this case, under a leaf) for reproduction of the fungus, bites down onto a vein of the leaf, and dies. After the ant’s death, the spores of the fungus continue to securely attach to the leaf, releasing antimicrobials to ward off any competition. At its reproductive maturation, the fungus sprouts from the ant’s head, and releases spores to be picked up by other ants, and the cycle continues.
Caterpillar vs. Baculovirus
A newly discovered strain of baculovirus infects the caterpillar by making the host climb up a tree after being infected, and promptly die. Other genes in the virus then make the caterpillar melt. This melting drips to the floor, where it then infects other caterpillars.
Caterpillar vs. The Glyptapanteles Wasp
The Glyptapanteles wasp lays its eggs inside inchworm caterpillars. The larvae feed on the caterpillar’s body fluids. Once grown, they exit the caterpillar and cocoon themselves to a leaf. Effectively by this point, the caterpillar is in a zombie-like state. It ceases to search for food, as its sole goal is to guard the wasp cocoon until the larvae reach adulthood. The caterpillar then dies.
Myrmica Ants vs Mountain Alcon Blue
When the Mountain Alcon Blue Caterpillar is ready to make its transition to a butterfly, it leaves the leafy tree tops and moves to the forest floor. It then proceeds to secrete ant-like chemicals. Worker ants treat the caterpillar as a queen ant, carrying the caterpillar to their den to feed and nurture it. Another fascinating mystery about this host: it mimics the queen’s sound as well.
Crab vs. Sacculina carcini
Sacculina Cracini is a barnacle. Female larvae float around until coming in contact with a host crab, to which attaches itself at a strategically vulnerable spot on the crab’s shell. The barnacle feeds off the crab, and the crab ceases all normal activities like mating and molting. It only feeds to bring nutrients to the parasite. When the barnacle is ready to reproduce, it mimics the crab’s brood, thus forcing the crab to assist in dispersing the eggs into the water.
Cockroach vs. Emerald cockroach wasp
The Green Jewel Wasp injects venom into the cockroach’s brain that block octopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for movement and alertness. The wasp then leads the cockroach to its burrow, where she lays eggs in its body. She locks the cockroach inside by filling up the burrow afterward. The wasp larvae feed inside the cockroach until they are ready to emerge.
Snail vs. Flatworm
The flatworm lives its life in two different hosts. Snails will first eat flatworm eggs, which hatch inside the snail and attach to its tentacles. The snail is then rendered blind, and unaware of differences in light or dark. This ideally (to the flatworm) causes the snail to be snatched by a bird. The flatworm reproduces inside the bird when the snail is eaten, and eggs are spread by the birds excretion. The process then begins again.
Grasshopper vs. Hairworm
When the hairworm infects its host, the larval worm produces proteins that chemically influence the brain and nervous system of the host. Once the larva is ready to become an adult, the grasshopper jumps into the water, and the adult hairworm exits the body to continue on to find a mate.
Killifish vs. Euhaplorchis californiensis
The parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis starts out as eggs inside of a bird, which then are released from excretion. The eggs are consumed by snails, and grow. Adults then exit the snail and navigate to the gills of the killifish. The parasite infects the brain of the fish, causing it to act in ways more vulnerable as prey to birds. Once eaten, the parasite lays its eggs inside the bird. The process then begins again.
Human vs. Toxoplasma Gondii
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that affects warm-blooded animals such as mice and cats. It can, however, be passed to humans. Studies have shown behavioral changes in humans such as schizophrenia that were caused by Toxoplasma gondii.