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November 11, 2014 AT 5:00 pm

What Can Parasites Teach Us About Zombies? #Biomimicry

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Parasites are the zombies of nature. by Tamsin Woolley-Barker via inhabitat

Zombies! Yes, we all secretly worry about the coming zombie apocalypse, though not enough to assemble the disaster-preparedness kits that we are actually supposed to have. But zombies aren’t real, right? Aside from The Joker’s laughing gas, mass hypnotism, or watching too much Fox TV, there’s no scientific mechanism for turning people into puppets. Or is there? Let’s find out in today’s special Hallows’ Eve entry of The Biomimicry Manual.

Read more: The Biomimicry Manual: What can parasites teach us about zombies and schizophrenia? | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

It actually turns out many parasites have figured out the art of host mind-control. They set up shop in an unsuspecting host, and force them to do their evil bidding. Which is pretty much just making more parasites. This diabolical possession strategy is straight out of The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. A certain female wasp in Costa Rica, for instance, searches for a specific spider, paralyzes it and lays her egg on it. The larva hatches and feeds on the spider, who doesn’t seem too bothered by it until a couple weeks later, when the larva injects a chemical which makes the spider build a special web. Instead of his usual “bug-catching net,” the spider builds a very strong, rain-resistant hammock, then goes straight to the center to be poisoned and sucked dry. The wasp larva knits herself a tidy cocoon in the hammock, sheltered from the elements, and the adult wasp emerges and flies off to find a new spider. But these are alien arthropods, of course, engaged in an ancient and endless evolutionary war. This stuff doesn’t happen to cute furry mammals and people, does it?

There are many cases of possession among the spineless set. There’s a flukeworm who spends its whole adult life in the liver of a cow. There, it mates and lays eggs, to be shat out by the host. A snail slurps up this flukey delicacy. The eggs hatch, spiral down to its intestines, clone themselves, then float dreamily up to the surface of the snail, to be left behind in a bubbly trail of flukeworm slimeballs. An ant comes along and hoovers up these sweet cystic treats, like an all-girl’s old folks home watching Lawrence Welk. The diabolical flukes set up shop in her brain, then force her to hypnotically ascend a blade of grass and wait, in a bolero-themed trance, to be eaten by another cow. If the ant is still alive at dawn, the flukes release their control and she resumes her ordinary existence, until the next night, when she repeats her somnambulance. She’ll do it every night until her tiny puppet-masters make it back to the mothership.

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