Did you know you can find these zombies in your backyard? From the infected zombie ants to the brutal toxoplasma gondii, we take a look at 10 zombie organisms in nature !
Zombie Ants -- A fungus was found in carpenter ants living in Thailand’s rainforest that controls their nervous system to such a degree that they become automatons with only one purpose -- helping the fungus to reproduce itself. Ants ingest the fungus and after a few days the insects stop interacting with other ants, no longer follow trails and aimlessly wander until falling out of the forest canopy. This places them on a lower level, providing a much cooler and moister environment in which the fungus can flourish. The ants wander about until finding the ideal location for the fungus to reproduce … after which the ant dies. A whole new cycle begins after the fungus erupts out of the dead ant’s head, allowing its spores to easily be contracted by other ants. Even though things might look gloomy for the ants, the intrepid insects have found a way to fight back … Ants essentially use another fungus which consumes the fungus that turns them into zombies. Got that? The parasite found in the zombie-ant fungus is actually a hyperparasitic fungus … and it likes to attack the parasite that transforms ants into zombies. When it attacks, it effectively prevents the zombie-ant fungus from spreading its spores. By grooming one another the ants pass the hyperparasitic fungus on to one another and so defend the colony.
Zombie Cockroaches -- Jewel Wasps have a win-win relationship with cockroaches … actually, it’s the wasp that gets the wins. Once strung by the parasitic jewel wasp, roaches lose their free will, allowing themselves to be led around by their antennae … like dogs. The wasp pulls the cockroach into their underground lair and lays its eggs inside the roach’s abdomen. As any respectable horror movie would have it, the larvae chew their way through the host’s body from the inside out -- while the roach is still alive! After about a month, the mature wasps emerge from the roaches’ body.
Zombie Honeybees -- The fly that lays its eggs in bumblebees is also known to use honeybees as hosts as well. Apocephalus borealis lays eggs in the bee's body, whereupon the infected bee shuts down work and abandons the colony. The bees behavior becomes more moth-like as it tends to move toward lights, disrupting its navigation. Afflicted bees are known to stagger and fall. But their misery doesn’t last too long. The bee is put out of its misery when all those fly larvae explodes from behind its head. You knew there had to be a happy ending.
Zombie Snails -- Take a look at the snail’s tentacle … guess what? That’s not a tentacle .. it’s worm known as the green-banded broodsac. The worm will journey into the worm’s digestive system and and grow into a long tube crammed with hundreds of reproductive larvae. The tube invades the tentacle and engages in a strange, pulsating display that attracts the attention of birds. Once duly attracted, the birds eat the snails, thus becoming hosts for the worm’s next growth phase. Eggs are laid that travel through the bird’s waste, and deposited onto plants … where they’re transmitted to snails, keeping that particular circle of life intact.
Suicidal Grasshoppers -- A grasshopper or cricket unlucky enough to contract a certain parasitic hairworm will likely find itself developing a sudden death wish. Transmitted in larval form through water, the parasite grows into a worm inside the grasshopper’s body … to a length more than 3 to 4 times longer than its host. Then, through a process not yet fully understood, the worm causes the grasshopper to jump into water where the host will certainly drown. Leaving the host, the adult worm lives to reproduce in water … sending out more larvae to start the process yet again.
Zombie Crabs -- Sacculina is a type of parasitic barnacle that jumps aboard crabs like a hitchhiker. That’s not so bad in and of itself … but these barnacles will also castrate male crabs by causing them to lose their drive to reproduce. No longer needing its own shell, the barnacle settles itself into a joint on the crab’s body and commences to molt. The barnacle has essentially made the crab’s shell its own. The host then expends its energy on behalf of the parasite’s growth ,,, energy the crab would spend on it own reproduction, had not the barnacle effectively castrated it. Once the barnacle releases its eggs, the crab helps them spread by stirring the water with its claw. Adding insult to injury, the mind-controlled crab will even care for the eggs as if they were his own.
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