Although zombie-like creatures might seem like something out of a science-fiction thriller, they can be fairly common in nature. Living organisms frequently use other living organisms to survive. Often we see this in predation — a lion consuming a zebra or a bird eating insects — but sometimes it’s a little more involved. Parasitic creatures find host bodies and go so far as to take over their minds, making their hosts zombie-like. Here are eight creatures that have such “zombifying” abilities.
8. Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga
The Costa Rican female parasitoid wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga does more than sting, it completely takes over its host spider Leucauge argyra. To do this, the wasp paralyzes its host and lays its eggs on the spider’s abdomen. The newly-hatched larva not only feeds off the spider by sucking its blood, but also injects a chemical that makes the spider build a special web. This web is strong enough to hold a wasp cocoon until the larva reaches maturity.
7. Jewel Wasp
The jewel wasp uses a larger cockroach as its host. To gain its compliance, the wasp stings it with a paralysis-inducing toxin. A second venomous sting to the host’s head disables its escape reflex. The wasp then chews off the roach’s antennae and pulls its host back to its nest, where it lays its egg on the roach’s stomach and leaves. The wasp larva hatches and feeds off the cockroach, chewing its way into the abdomen and forming a cocoon. The larva eventually grows to maturity within its host’s body.
6. Glyptapanteles Wasp
Just like the previously mentioned wasps, the Glyptapanteles wasp uses another insect — in this case, a caterpillar — as the host for its eggs. This wasp infects the caterpillar with a virus that impairs its immune system, which doesn’t kill the caterpillar and allows the wasp’s eggs to survive. The caterpillar serves not only as the food source for the larvae, but a bodyguard as well. The virus permanently halts the caterpillar’s development, and the host even spins its own cocoon around the pupating wasps.
5. Lancet Liver Fluke
The lancet liver fluke, a flatworm, has a strange life cycle, zombifying several hosts on its way to maturity. As an adult, the fluke thrives in the livers of grazing animals, where it mates. Its eggs leave the host body in the animal’s manure, which is consumed by snails. After the eggs are consumed and have hatched inside its body, the snail will attempt to ward off its invaders by walling them into cysts and coughing them up in balls of mucus. Ants will eat these mucus balls, and the hatchling flukes will wiggle their way to the ant’s brain. Under the command of the parasite, the ant will perch on blades of grass and wait for grazing animals to consume it, allowing the fluke to complete its life cycle.
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