CLOSE

Invasion of the Zombie Animals

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

445Sacculina.jpg

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

445waspcaterpillar.jpg

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

445grasshopper.jpg

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

445_killifish.jpg

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

445_butterfly.jpg

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

445tonguereplacer.jpg

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

445_wasp.jpg

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
fun
Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping? It Depends on What You Eat
iStock
iStock

If you’re obsessed with either your scale or your bowel movements, you’ve probably wondered: How much of my weight is just poop? A teenage cousin of mine once spent an entire restaurant dinner arguing that he could lose up to 3 pounds if you just gave him a few minutes to sit on the toilet. As you might imagine, he was wrong. But not by that much, according to Thrillist, a site that’s been truly dominating the poop science beat lately.

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.) But how much your feces weigh depends heavily on your diet. The more fiber you eat, the heavier your poop. Unfortunately, even the most impressive fecal achievement won't tip the scales much.

In 1992, researchers studying the effect of fiber intake on colon cancer risk wrote that the daily movements of poopers across the world could vary anywhere from 2.5 ounces to 1 pound. In their sample of 220 Brits, the median daily poop weighed around 3.7 ounces. A dietary intake of around 18 grams of dietary fiber a day typically resulted in a 5.3-ounce turd, which the researchers say is enough to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

A Western diet probably isn’t going to help you achieve your poop potential, mass-wise. According to one estimate, industrialized populations only eat about 15 grams of fiber per day thanks to processed foods. (Aside from ruining your bragging rights for biggest poop, this also wreaks havoc on your microbiome.) That's why those British poops observed in the study didn't even come close to 1 pound.

Poop isn’t the only thing passing through your digestive tract that has some volume to it. Surprisingly, your fabulous flatulence can be quantified, too, and it doesn’t even take a crazy-sensitive machine to do so. In a 1991 study, volunteers plied with baked beans were hooked up to plastic fart-capturing bags using rectal catheters. The researchers found that the average person farts around 24 ounces of gas a day. The average fart involved around 3 ounces of gas.

This doesn’t mean that either pooping or farting is a solid weight-loss strategy. If you’re hoping to slim down, losing a pound of poop won’t improve the way your jeans fit. Certainly your 24 ounces of gas won't. But to satisfy pure scientific curiosity, sure, break out that scale before and after you do your business. At least you'll be able to see if your fiber intake is up to snuff.

[h/t Thrillist]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Health
Why You Get Diarrhea When You're Hungover
iStock
iStock

If your hangover mornings involve a lot of time sitting on the toilet, you're not alone. In addition to making you puke your guts out, drinking too much can also give you massive diarrhea the next day. Why? Thrillist talked to a gastroenterologist about the hangover poops, and found that it's a pretty common phenomenon, one caused by a combination of unusually fast-moving digestion.

When you drink, Urvish Shah told the site, alcohol increases what's called gut motility, the contractions that move food along your gastrointestinal tract. Combine this with the fact that booze inhibits vasopressin—the hormone that regulates water retention and prevents your kidneys from immediately dumping whatever liquid you drink into your bladder—and suddenly your guts have become a full-blown water slide.

All those cocktails take a fast-paced thrill ride down to your colon, where your gut bacteria throw a feast. The result is a bunch of gas and diarrhea you don't usually get when food and water are passing through your system a little more slowly. And because it's all rushing through you so fast, the colon isn't absorbing as much liquid as usual, giving you even more watery poops. If you haven't eaten, the extra acidity in your stomach from the booze can also irritate your stomach lining, causing—you guessed it—more diarrhea.

The more concentrated form of alcohol you drink, the worse it's going to be. If you really want to stay out of the bathroom the morning after that party, go ahead and take it easy on the shots. Because beer is so high in carbohydrates, though, Thrillist warns that that will cause gas and poop problems too as the bacteria in your gut start going to town on the undigested carbs that make it to your colon.

All in all, the only way to avoid a post-alcohol poop is to just stop drinking quite as much. Sorry, folks. If you want to rule Saturday night, you'll have to deal with the Sunday morning runs.

[h/t Thrillist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios