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Zombie Bugs

October 20, 2010

Brit Trogen

With Halloween fast approaching, what could be more appropriate than a look into the world of zombies? Not the slow-moving, blood smeared ones. I'm talking about real zombies. A few weeks ago Torah gave us a small taste of zombie-inducing parasites with Toxoplasma gondii, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Plenty of creepy critters get their kicks out of controlling the minds of others (Christine O'Donnell not included)! And as for the zombies...

 

Science in Seconds Blog Brit Trogen

 

Let's start with the innocent pill bug, also known as the woodlouse or "roly-poly." These tiny crustaceans feed on bark, moss and other organic matter, and curl up in little balls when threatened. They also known enough to hide away from any birds who come around looking for a snack. But when infected with parasitic worms, the pill bugs suddenly get a different idea: suicide. The zombified bugs crawl out into the open, to their certain death (allowing the worms to complete their life cycle in the belly of a bird.)

 

These aren't the only zombies to bite the bullet. A parallel occurrence happens in these pretty hilarious ants infected with parasitic nematodes, as discovered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. But it doesn't stop there... Imagine being forced to build a fortress for your parasite overlord before they feast on your pitiful body?

 

Science in Seconds Blog Brit Trogen

 

This is the plight of the Plesiometa argyra spider. This unfortunate pre-zombie is the target of a wasp that lays its larvae in the body of the spider. From that point on, the spider's brain is no longer its own, and it will spend its last days building a silk sack for the larvae, which, on completion, they will go on to inhabit... after killing the spider. 

 

It's a cruel, cruel world. But I guess we can take some comfort in the knowledge that if zombies ever do take over earth, chance are they'll just lie down in front of moving trains or something. Parasites are sadistic.

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