6 Zombie-Like Examples of Parasitic Infection That Will Haunt Your Nightmares
From the cradle to the grave, we take ourselves for granted. Yet, we’re the only constant in our own life stories; the only person who will truly be with us through thick and thin from our first breath to our last. It’s easy to take that for granted but sometimes nature gives us a grotesque and grim reminder that our identities should be treated as cherished gifts. TV shows like The Walking Dead and The Strain show us what happens when a parasitic infection strips humans of their identities, leaving lifeless monsters in their wake. We watch these shows with the reassurance that it’s all a terrible fantasy. But as these 6 examples of parasitic infestation in the animal kingdom show, the human race is only slightly removed from real life zombie horrors.
1. Castrator Barnacles Reassign Their Host’s Gender
We feel struck down by the hand of God when we catch the flu, so imagine contracting a parasitic infection that ended in gender reassignment. The castrator barnacle simply finds a weak point in a crab’s armor before setting up shop within the crustacean. The poor crab’s shell expands to allow the barnacle to reproduce. Then the parasitic infection works its mental-molding magic by making the victimized crab care for its barnacle babies. The gents get it a bit worse, as the barnacle obliterates their fertility before changing their physiology to resemble a female crab’s, thus allowing more room for reproduction. Male crabs are then plagued with shrunken genitalia, stunted claws, and a ghastly propensity to lapse into female mating dances.
2. A Parasitic Infection That Leaves Rats Sexual Attracted to Cat Urine
When rats contract a parasitic infection of Toxoplasma gondii, they find themselves insatiably attracted to cat urine. Not only is this a fetish sure to get any creature shunned from social circles, but it’s a particularly life-threatening one for rodents. Rats are naturally terrified of feline urine, recognizing it as a telltale sign that death is around the corner. But the parasitic infection turns this against rats because the parasite, like most internet users, actually prefers cats. Unfortunately for the rat, the story typically ends in a cat’s digestive tract (just a hop, skip, and a jump away from that sweet, sweet cat urine).
3. The Wasp That Turns Spiders into Droning Slaves
One of the most brutal perpetrators of parasitic infection in insects is the wasp. One such wasp infects spiders, turning the eight-legged artists’ minds inside out. The infected spider toils away, creating a bizarre web that looks nothing like the spider webs you and I recognize. Instead, the spider, under the influence of the parasitic infection, has created the perfect stronghold for the soon-to-be cocooning wasp. Then, the spider is rewarded for all of its hard work by being devoured alive by its parasite.
4. Parasitic Wasps Turn Baby Caterpillars into Zombie Guards
If you need further proof that wasps are bastards, the Glyptapanteles wasp actually preys on defenseless infant caterpillars, overpowering them with a parasitic infection that will make your flesh crawl. The wasp’s offspring grow along with the aging caterpillar until they hatch forth. If the parasitic infection had any mercy, the caterpillar would die there. Instead, the caterpillar remains to guard over the infant wasps, protectively covering them in silk shelters and deflecting attackers with lumbering swings of its head. The parasitism is so severe that the caterpillar neglects to eat, devoting the last vestiges of its life to its wasp masters.
5. Kamikaze Horse Hair Worms Push Crickets to Suicide
When a cricket unsuspectingly slurps up water from its local creek, it may be opening the floodgates of parasitic infection with the kamikaze horse hair worm. These tenacious parasites take over the unsuspecting cricket’s mind, compelling it to lunge into the nearest body of water and drown without struggle. Why? Because kamikaze horse hair worms like water (as they prove by quickly bursting forth from the cricket’s corpse into aquatic freedom).
6. Zombie Roaches, Anyone?
What’s worse than a cockroach? A zombie cockroach. And zombie roaches are very real thanks to a parasitic infection courtesy of, you guessed it, a wasp. The emerald cockroach wasp is actually quite pretty, but its dining habits leave a lot to be desired. After easily zombifying the much larger roach, the wasp waits for the parasitic infection to do its thing and then cruelly drags the roach by its antennae to the wasp’s nest. It vampirically drinks enough of the roach’s bodily fluids to rejuvenate, then lays its eggs in the roach before burying it alive as an incubator to its offspring. The roach could easily burrow free but the parasitic infestation renders it complacent. Eventually, the baby wasps eat it from the inside out before violently bursting from the husk that once was a roach.
With such nightmarish examples of parasitic infection haunting the animal kingdom, humans should consider themselves lucky. Imagine what a zombification parasite could achieve with the human race’s ingenuity and power. We may be susceptible to viruses and parasites, but in the end we’re very lucky. Our parasites leave us our identities and minds.