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Invasion of the Zombie Animals

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Mother Nature is not usually kind. There are creatures, usually tiny creatures, that will take over a member of another species. They will invade their host's bodies, their brains, and even their will. They turn their much-larger victims into zombies!

1. Zombie Snails -Induced Vulnerability

The flatworm Leucochloridium paradoxum infects two different animals in its lifetime, but only controls one of them. It lives its adult life inside birds and its eggs are spread by bird excretion. How does it get inside the birds? That's the horror story. Amber snails eat the eggs, which hatch in the snail's digestive tract. The larva changes into sporocysts (or broodsacs), which elongate and invade the snail's tentacles atop its head. The broodsacs, filled with hundred of Leucochloridium paradoxum, pulsate and seek light. The snail is helpless to retract its tentacles, and has lost its ability to perceive light and therefore does not hide. The inflated tentacles move like worms, attracting birds that bite off the tentacles. The flatworms then develop into the adult stage inside the bird. The snail, however, is left to die -or to undergo the process again.

2. Zombie Crabs -Slave Governess

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A barnacle named Sacculina wants to nest inside a crab. A female Sacculina will look for a place to enter the crab's body. When it does, it will leave its shell behind, not needing it anymore as it has the crab! Inside, Sacculina sets up shop, growing tendrils through the crab's body and slowly feeding on it. It castrates the crab (if male) and effectively turns the crab into a female nanny for its young. This makes the crab not only infertile but also uninterested in mating. The barnacle, on the other hand, bores a hole open in the crab's shell big enough to let male Sacculina in to mate. The zombie crab treats the Sacculina eggs and larvae as its own, having lost the will to do anything but serve its parasite master. Image credit: Hans Hillewaert.

3. Zombie Caterpillars -Slave Bodyguard

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Glyptapanteles is a wasp that lays its eggs in the body of a caterpillar. This is a three layered parasitic infection. The wasps engage the help of a virus, or more accurately a polydnavirus that has been genetically modified by the wasps, to disable the caterpillar's immune system, allowing the wasp eggs to survive. The relationship between the wasps and the virus is mutually beneficial; only the caterpillars get the short end of the stick. The eggs hatch and feed on the caterpillar, but do not kill it. Instead, the caterpillar stops developing and spends the rest of its life protecting the wasp larva, even going as far as spinning its own cocoon around the wasp pupae. Watch a video of the entire process. When the adult wasp emerges from its cocoon, the zombie caterpillar finally tastes the sweet release of death.

4. Zombie Grasshoppers -Induced Suicide

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The parasitic hairworm Spinochordodes tellinii is deadly to grasshoppers. Once eaten by a grasshopper or cricket, the larval worm produces proteins that affect the insect's brain and nervous system. By the time the worm reaches adulthood, the insect is completely under its power. The zombie grasshopper commits suicide by jumping into water, where the worm will emerge and look for a mate.

5. Zombie Fish -Luring Its Killer

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The parasitic worm Euhaplorchis californiensis infects three other species in a cycle, and alters the behavior of two of them. First, the eggs are consumed by horn snails. While living inside a snail, sometimes for several generations, Euhaplorchis inhibits the snail's fertility. The parasite will eventually leave the snail and infect the gills of a killifish. The worms will surround the fish's brain and cause it to swim near the surface and wiggle around. This makes the fish more likely to be eaten by a bird, which is what Euhaplorchis wanted in the first place. The digestive system of a bird is where the worm lays its eggs, which are excreted onto the beach where snails can reach them.

6. Zombie Ants -Serving the Impostors

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Even butterflies can make other species into zombies! Maculina rebeli, a European butterfly, lay eggs that exude the scent of ant queens. Worker ants welcome them into their colony. The butterflies emerge as caterpillars which are fed by the ants. The ants treat them as their own young, or even better than ordinary ant larvae since they perceive the caterpillars to be queen ant larvae. Worker ants will even defend the caterpillars against their own queen! You may think of ants as zombies already, but they normally only serve their own species.

7. Zombie Fish Tongue -Artificial Organ

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Cymothoa exigua is a small crustacean found off the coast of California. You don't have to worry about it unless you are a spotted rose snapper. C. exigua invades the mouth of these fish and grabs onto the base of the tongue, pinching off the blood supply and drinking it. As the tongue atrophies, the fish begins to use the little isopod as a replacement tongue. Meanwhile, C. exigua lives its life inside the fish's mouth, drinking blood and fish slime from the tongue's stump. Other than the loss of its tongue, the fish suffers little from the experience, so the two can share a normal, if creepy, lifespan.

8. Zombie Cockroach -Commandeered Nursery

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The Emerald Cockroach Wasp (Ampulex compressa) makes a slave out a much larger cockroach. The wasp will sting the roach twice, paralyzing its front legs and taking the escape reflex away from its brain. Then the wasp will chew off half of the roach's antennae and uses what's left to steer the roach to a prepared nest. The wasp lays an egg on the roach's abdomen and leaves. The egg will hatch and feed off the roach, which still won't try to escape. The wasp larvae keeps the docile roach alive long enough to build a cocoon inside the roach's body and transform into an adult wasp. An adult female wasp can enslave and lays eggs on several dozen zombie roaches.

chestburster.jpgAre there organisms that will have effects like this on human behavior? I believe there may be, but the voices in my head tell me they are a secret.

Update: Also see the sequel to this post, 7 More Zombie Animals

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How the Global Bird-Poop Trade Created a Traveling Mummy Craze
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Mummy of Christopher Delano; image from the 1864 French translation of the 1854 A Descriptive Narrative of the Wonderful Petrifaction of a Man into Stone. Image Credit: Courtesy of Garrett Scott

 
Bird poop has been a favored fertilizer for centuries—and, it turns out, is an excellent preserver of human flesh. These two factors came together in the 19th century as the global trade in guano, the excrement of seabirds (or bats), took off, leading to some unexpected travelers coming along for the ride—and raking in the cash.

Guano contains essential nutrients for plant growth and naturally accumulates near nesting areas. Its Miracle-Gro properties were prized and regulated by the Incas (the word wanu is Quechua in origin), but it wasn’t until 1802 that the European world learned of this resource through the writings of Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who traveled extensively along the west coast of South America.

By the 1840s, Europe and the U.S. were importing guano for fertilizer. When it was discovered the poop could also make gunpowder, a veritable guano mania began. Guano was soon going for about $76 per ton, and the U.S. imported over 100,000 tons of it in 1861 [PDF]. That's about $250 million in today’s dollars.

In the race to control the world’s guano deposits and secure bird poo futures for its people, the U.S. created the Guano Islands Act in 1856, allowing any U.S. citizen to claim guano-covered islands. Control over guano resources became part of the justification for the Chincha Islands War (1864–1866) between Spain and Peru and Chile, as well as for the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), in which Chile stole Peru’s guano.

In the midst of this fervor for feces, guano miners were hard at work chipping away at the hardened mounds of poo on islands in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Atlantic. Strangely, on some of these islands, among the guano they also found mummified humans.

The most well-known guano mummy is that of Christopher Delano. On the island of Ichaboe, a teeny speck of land off Namibia, a crew of guano miners found a canvas hammock containing a human body under about 6 feet of guano, with a wooden plaque saying “Christopher Delano, 1721.” A cheery pamphlet from 1854 describes his mummified corpse and its travels: “But for the hair and teeth, which were quite perfect, [it] appeared a mass resembling stone, all the natural and component parts, of the body being changed by the process of petrifaction … [and] composed chiefly of lime and ammonia.”

In spite of the quite scientific understanding at the time of both natural and artificial mummification (thanks to early interest in ancient Egypt), even with the knowledge of the formation of adipocere, or “grave wax,” on recently interred corpses, the perception of what guano could do appears to have been wrong. Delano was not “changed into a mass of lime and ammonia.” We know now that in the short term, guano can help seal dead bodies, creating an oxygen-poor and salt-rich environment that is good for preservation. In a warm, arid climate like Namibia, the guano helped dry Delano’s body and shield it from scavengers.

Captain Wethers, who commanded the crew, brought the mummy from Ichaboe to Liverpool, where it traveled to the British Museum. From there, poor Delano went on a tour of Great Britain and Ireland, where he brought in more than $150,000—the equivalent of about $4 million today.

Upon examination of Delano, British and French scientists determined that he was European and not African, and the amount of wear on his teeth suggested he was in his mid to late 30s when he died. His right shoulder is elevated and contracted, and his open mouth revealed “a death of agony” (though it's not unusual to see a gaping jaw on a mummy). His cause of death? Likely a spear wound to his right shoulder.

The writer of the 1854 pamphlet took liberties with the sparse facts available: “About 1721, the Island of Ichaboe had been the resort of nests of Pirates…. In all human probability, the most satisfactory conjecture that can be arrived at is that the unfortunate Christopher Delano was a Spaniard, joined in some piratical enterprises, and leagued with a gang of desperadoes, from one of whom, while visiting the Island of Ichaboe, he most probably received his death wound in some bacchanalism origies [sic] or sudden quarrel.”

With this amazing manufactured backstory, Delano’s body was brought to Philadelphia and exhibited before being shipped to France by the mid-1860s. Although billed as the “only one in the world” and “the solitary known example in the Universe of its kind,” it was only a matter of time—and feverish digging—before more mummies preserved by bird poop materialized. Just a few years after Delano was discovered, the British ship Octavia also docked in Liverpool with a load of guano—and the mummies of a man, woman, and child from Peru [PDF]. Like Delano, they were eventually exhibited at the British Museum in London.

In 1868, British natural historian Francis Buckland noted that he saw yet another guano mummy in a “penny show” in Edinburgh; according to the show's handbill, the body was brought from Possession Island off the west coast of Africa by Captain Dunlop’s ship Echo. The mummy was well preserved, with an oaken board that was carved “Peter Creed, 1790.” Buckland spoke with the owner, who reportedly announced that the mummy “is as good as a pension to me,” earning him today’s equivalent of $2000 in under two weeks. The owner was aware of the Delano corpse, which at that point he claimed had disintegrated due to its travels, but mused “he ain’t no use as a scientific mummy now; the more’s the luck for me as long as my Peter Creed holds together.” (Given England’s humidity, though, it is doubtful that his Mr. Creed survived for very long.)

By the early 20th century, the guano trade had tapered off. Industrialized countries found new sources of fertilizer, and it turns out that guano was not a very good source of saltpeter for gunpowder. Many islands and atolls had been completely stripped, but the legacy remains: Many remain in U.S. possession after being claimed for their guano 150 years ago. Seven of these make up the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the world’s largest marine reserve. As for the islands that produced Delano and Creed, these today support Cape gannets and endangered African penguins, and wildlife conservationists still often visit to monitor these populations.

While guano mummies are occasionally discovered in these areas, today new finds are largely made by archaeologists excavating prehistoric caves sites in arid locations like Nevada, New Mexico, and Durango, Mexico. Still, with the popularity of bat guano as an organic fertilizer on the rise today, it’s likely more poop-preserved mummies may yet turn up.

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SkunkLock
A Smelly Bike Locks Drives Thieves Away By Making Them Vomit
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SkunkLock

There’s no city that’s safe from bike thieves. A 2014 survey found that half of cyclists will at some point have their bike stolen. So what’s a cyclist to do when even the best U-lock can’t deter a serious thief? A pair of inventors thinks bad smells are the answer, The Guardian reports. The crowdfunded product SkunkLock looks like a regular U-lock, but if someone tries to break it, it releases a smell so vile that the thief is left puking.

According to the company, when the lock is breached, it emits a non-toxic but terrible formula—like pepper spray, its active ingredient is capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy—that makes it difficult to see or breathe without vomiting. (SkunkLock swears it’s legal, but it still has to go through some legal vetting before the product can ship.)

Presumably, the puking thief would then flee the scene without the bike. The lock doesn't prevent a good lockpick from making off with your bike and your intact SkunkLock, but it will at least punish opportunists wielding bolt cutters.

It’s not the only useful application of disgusting odors. The vile-smelling spray Liquid ASS is used in military training to expose soldiers and medics to the horrible smells of war.

SkunkLock is taking pre-orders for $99 on Indiegogo.

[h/t The Guardian]

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