Is there a virus that can turn human beings into grey senseless man-eating animals that look for nothing but some flesh to eat? At least that is what The Walking Dead and other films and TV shows have taught us about zombification. The idea may well have been derived from nature because there are parasites and even insects that have the ability to induce mind control into other organisms causing them to do their bidding without exactly intending to. From wasps that convert cockroaches into living foods for their larvae until they hatch to worms that cause grasshoppers to go senseless and commit suicide, here are 10 horrific cases of zombification in nature.
The Jewel Wasp and Cockroaches
Wasps are a real nightmare to fellow insects because multiple members of the species seem to have the ability to control the minds of their victims. The jewel wasp relies on cockroaches to raise its young ones by first stinging the wasp until its front legs are paralyzed. The wasp then injects poison in the roach’s brain that only removes the roach’s ability to move and fight but it stays alive. The last stage involves cutting off the cockroach’s antennae before dragging it into a burrow.
The Cockroach loses only the ability to defend itself and follows the wasp to the burrow because on its own, the wasp cannot carry the cockroach. The wasp then lays its egg in the cockroach’s leg where the egg hatches and starts drinking its blood. The larvae then move into the cockroach’s body and starts eating through its vital organs including the nervous system, blood vessels and the heart. By the time the cockroach dies, the larvae has formed a cocoon where it hibernates as it grows until a mature wasp comes out.
The Ophio Fungus vs Ants
This is another organism that turns insects into zombies causing them to nourish it and finally commit suicide at the fungus’ convenience. The fungus usually has its pores on the ants’ tracks so when an ant crosses its path, the spores attach themselves to it. The spores then produce a chemical that eats through the ant’s exoskeleton allowing it to enter the ant. The ant grows inside the ant completely taking over its body until it is more than half of the ant’s body mass.
The ant also produces a chemical that forces the ant to behave normally inside the colony so that it won’t be thrown out by other ants. When the ant is ready to release its pores, it causes the ant to climb a leaf about 10cm above the colony’s tracks. The ant then bites hard into the vein on the underside of a leaf and stays in a death grip while the fungus grows out of the ant’s head and then explodes. It ensures that the ant is above the tracks that the colony use so that the spores will find another victim.
The Parasitoid Wasp vs The Spooked Spider
This is another wasp that uses its victim as a host for its young but the mind control in this case is just scary. The wasp is called Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga and the spooked spider (Plesiometa argyra) is its only hope when it wants to reproduce. The wasp hunts down the spider and then paralyzes it with venom before laying an egg on its abdomen. The hatched egg burrows into the spider and feeds on its internal organs slowly while controlling it until its last stage of development. The larvae cause the spider to weave a cocoon for the larvae before it dies and the larvae continue to feed on the corpse until it is ready to moult and come out as an adult.
Taxoplasma gondii vs Rats, Mice and Humans
If you have a cat at home, you may have this virus too, but you have nothing to worry about because this one won’t kill you easily. The parasite usually lives and reproduces in cats before being released through a cat’s faeces. Its greatest victims are rats and mice which pick the virus from a cat’s droppings and then get their brains attacked so that they are attracted to the smell of a cat’s urine and no longer fear cats. The rats and mice literally stand there for the cats to catch them and eat them. The parasite’s main aim is to get back into a cat where it can find mates and reproduce. Scientists believe that the parasite may affect the mood of humans and cause them to lose their sense of self-preservation causing suicides but that is still to be confirmed.
Hairworms vs Grasshoppers and crickets
The prospect of being infected by these parasitic worms is just scary. Hairworms are naturally terrestrial but they prefer to stay in the water when they grow up. They, therefore, look for an insect looking for a drink and then infect it. The most vulnerable are crickets and grasshoppers. The worms then stunt the insects’ growth while feeding on their food reserves until the worm outgrows the insect. They ensure that the insect stays alive though until they are mature. The worm then causes the insect to look for a waterbody and drown itself so that the worm can swim out of the corpse and find a mate.
Glyptapanteles Wasps vs Caterpillars
This is another wasp that turns another insect into the living dead and then uses their bodies as a second womb for its larvae. In this case though, the process is very brutal on the caterpillar. The wasp starts by laying multiple eggs into a caterpillar which then hatch and begin to grow inside the caterpillar feeding on its blood. The larvae grow until they are more than a third of the caterpillar’s weight but they are careful not to touch vital organs of their host.
When they want to cocoon, they chew through the caterpillar’s skin after releasing chemicals that paralyze it. Once out, the larvae spin cocoons and funny enough, the victim caterpillar helps them by spinning another silk cocoon for the parasites. The caterpillar is then zombified into guarding the larvae by wriggling aggressively when a potential predator comes. While on guard duty, the caterpillar never eats and therefore dies just days before the mature wasps are ready to crawl out of the cocoon.
Acanthocephalan vs Pill Bugs
Just like T. Gondii needs a cat’s stomach to grow and reproduce, Acanthocephalans need a bird’s stomach for the same purpose. They are released through bird’s droppings and then find themselves into the bodies of pill bugs when the humble crawlers forage through the droppings. The worm then enters the insect’s body where it sucks on its blood for survival but doesn’t kill it. When the worm is mature and wants to go back into a bird’s gut, it enters the bug’s brain and causes it to expose itself to an open surface during daylight so that birds can swallow it. The pill bugs totally lose their sense of self preservation just like the mice and rats attacked by T. Gondii.
The Zatypota wasp vs the social Eximius spider
The Anelosimus eximius spider is one of the few on Earth that live in communal webs and enjoy the protection of the community. This only lasts until the wasp finds one vulnerable member of the community, often a strong immature spider and then lays its eggs on the spider’s abdomen. As the larvae grows inside the spider, it causes it to leave the community and form its own web using stronger silk that effectively becomes a cocoon for the larvae. The spider closes itself into the cocoon allowing the larvae to feed on its corpse until it is fully grown.
Baculovirus vs Gypsy moth caterpillars
If there was a virus that actually creates zombies, then this is it because the infection rate is astonishing. The baculovirus responsible for this strange phenomenon is just a small group with a gene called the egt gene. The virus causes the caterpillars to climb to the highest leaves of the tree during the day (they do that at night normally) and then the caterpillar dies. The body then disintegrates dropping more virus onto the leaves and other caterpillars below allowing the virus to find hosts quickly.
Rhizocephala Barnacle vs crabs
Male crabs are often the victims of the attacks by these parasites. The barnacle attaches itself onto a male crab and then castrates it. The barnacle then mates and forces the crab to take care of the larvae thinking it is its own larvae. The crab loses its lifetime to the parasite, and when it wants to mate, it causes the crab to find another crab infected with a barnacle of the opposite sex. The male crab then releases the larvae into the water just like it would its own offspring, not knowing it just ruined the lives of millions of other crabs.
Do you know of any other examples of Zombification In Nature? What is your favourite zombie movie? Do let us know in the comments below.