Zombie fish flip around and dart toward the surface of the water, seeming to beg for birds to eat them. Zombie crickets, beetles and praying mantises drown themselves in water.
Zombie rats are drawn to the smell of the pee of cats that may devour them. In order to accomplish these tricks, some parasites have evolved the ability to hack into the host’s brain and influence its behavior in very specific ways.
Every parasite has its own method, but the process usually involves altering chemicals within the victim’s brain. Researchers are working hard to identify which chemicals are involved and how they end up so bizarrely altering their host’s behavior.
She is a biologist who studies parasites at Rice University in Houston, Texas. True zombies, she points out, aren’t exactly like the type you find in horror stories.
One parasite causes infected rats to become attracted to the smell of cat pee. This helps the parasite because it needs a cat to eat the rat for its life cycle to continue. User2547783c_812/istockphotoThe horsehair worm, for instance, needs to emerge in water.
To make this happen, it forces its insect host to leap into a lake or swimming pool. Toxoplasma Gandhi (TOX-oh-PLAZ-ma GON-dee-eye) is a single-celled creature that can only complete its life cycle inside a cat.
Biologist Charissa de Bekker wants to better understand how that fungus exerts that mind control over the ants. So she and her team have been studying a species related to the Ophiocordyceps fungus in Thailand.
This is likely due to the fact that trees and plants in this state lose their leaves in the winter. There, her team infected a few species of ant with the South Carolina fungus.
But the fungus made plant-climbing zombies only out of the species that it naturally infects in the wild. To figure out what was going on, DE Becker’s team collected new, uninfected ants of each species.
South Carolina photographer Kim Fleming discovered affected ants in her backyard. When the fungus was exposed to its favorite brains (that is, ones from the ants that it naturally infects in the wild), it released thousands of chemicals.
The experiments at Penn State by DE Becker’s team were the first to create ant zombies in the lab. And the researchers only succeeded after setting up artificial 24-hour cycles of light and darkness for the zombies and their parasites.
It will take more work to learn how the parasite’s chemicals lead to zombie behavior in ants. She now studies ant zombies at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.
There, she is now probing how that daily cycle of sunlight and darkness affects modification. It spins a nursery of sorts for the wriggly, worm-like wasp baby stuck to its back.
He studies insect behavior and ecology at Kobe University in Japan. The extra strong threads most likely help the larva stay safe until it emerges from its cocoon 10 days later.
In this video, the zombie spider has finished weaving an extra strong web for the wasp larva. The larva then eats the spider’s insides and spins itself a cocoon. Keizo TakasukaThe jewel wasp puts an insect on the menu it serves up to its young: cockroach.
She targets a specific part of the roach’s brain, turning it into a zombie. From the Laboratory of Professor Liberal at Ben Guion UniversityLibersat’s group has focused its research on figuring out what the jewel wasp does to the cockroach mind. That venom might interfere with a chemical in the roach’s brain called dopamine, Liberal reports.
This chemical helps the cockroach stay alert, walk and perform other tasks. When researchers injected a substance similar to dopamine into zombie cockroaches, the insects again began walking.
But Hammersmith, who was not involved in the research, notes that Liberal’s team has worked out this chemical process in more detail than is available for most types of zombie mind control. She studies California billfish infected with a worm called Euhaplorchis Californians (YU-ha-PLOR-kis CAL-ih-for-nee-EN-sis).
An infected fish will still eat normally and stay in a group with its pals. Hammersmith now is working with Gyving Overly at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, in As.
Researchers know what chemical changes should happen to a billfish brain when something, such as the sight of a bird on the prowl, stresses it out. Parasites have developed their control of other creatures’ brains over millions of years of evolution.
The zombie, often portrayed as an undead, flesh-eating, decaying corpse, has enjoyed a popularity surge in recent years. Whether they’re devouring their prey in The Walking Dead or getting their groove on in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, zombies dominate pop culture.
Archaeologists have unearthed many ancient graves which contained skeletons pinned down by rocks and other heavy objects, assumedly to prevent the dead bodies from reanimating. Voodoo (sometimes spelled odor or noun) is a religion based in West Africa and practiced throughout Haiti and the Caribbean, Brazil, the American South and other places with an African heritage.
Boors have a tradition of using herbs, shells, fish, animal parts, bones and other objects to create concoctions including “zombie powders,” which contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin found in puffer fish and some other marine species. Used carefully at sub-lethal doses, the tetrodotoxin combination may cause zombie-like symptoms such as difficulty walking, mental confusion and respiratory problems.
A 1997 article in the British Medical Journal The Lancet described three verifiable accounts of zombies. In one case, a Haitian woman who appeared to be dead was buried in a family tomb, only to reappear three years later.
An investigation revealed that her tomb was filled with stones, and her parents agreed to admit her to a local hospital. In another well-documented case, a Haitian man named Clearview Narcissa entered a local hospital with severe respiratory problems in 1962.
Doctors, townspeople and family members all identified him as Clearview Narcissa, who claimed he had been buried alive, then dug up and put to work on a distant sugar plantation. According to The Undead Eighteenth Century by Linda Roost, zombies appeared in literature as far back as 1697 and were described as spirits or ghosts, not cannibalistic fiends.
They arrived at the film scene around the same time as their monster peers, Frankenstein and Dracula, with the 1932 release of White Zombie. But it wasn’t until 1968 that zombies acquired a cult following of their own with the release of Night of the Living Dead, directed by George Romero.
And the 2013 release of World War Z starring Brad Pitt brought zombie culture to a disturbing new level. Vinegar tells Stanford News she believes mankind’s perception of violence took a drastic turn after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
She feels such large-scale disasters cause people to fictionalize their deaths on a mass scale and focus on survival of the fittest, a common theme among zombie narratives. Whether you’re a fan of zombies or the thought of running into one causes you to sleep with one eye open, they’re part of modern pop culture.
But do zombies, or zombie-like beings actually exist in nature, and if so, what are they, and how do they come to enter this state of “death?” And can humans ever become zombie-like? Many species of fungi can be dangerous, often because they are toxic to animals, but there is one thing in particular that makes Ophiocordyceps especially frightening.
Share on Pinterest Carpenter ants taken over by parasitic fungi give in to their attackers and ‘lose their minds.’ One of these species, Ophiocordyceps unilateralism sense late, specifically infects, controls, and kills carpenter ants (Camponotus castanets), native to North America.
The ants become compelled to climb to the top of elevated vegetation, where they remain affixed and die. Below, you can watch a video showing how the parasitic fungus infects its victims, leading them to their death.
A. Eximius spiders are social animals that prefer to remain in groups, never straying too far from their colonies. But Fernandez-Fournier and team noticed that members of this species infected with Zapata larva exhibited bizarre behavior, leaving their colony to weave tightly-spun, cocoon-like webs in remote locations.
When the researchers opened these artificial “cocoons,” they found Zapata larvae growing inside. When the egg hatches and the wasp larva emerges, it starts feeding on the spider and begins to take control of its body.
Share on Pinterest A newly ‘reanimated’ giant virus from the Siberian permafrost offers a chilling warning of possible dangers to come. In 2014, researchers from the Center National DE la Recherché Scientific at AIX–Marseille University in France dug a fascinating organism out of the Siberian permafrost: a so-called giant virus, about 30,000 years old, which they named Retrovirus Siberia.
The size of giant viruses, as well as the fact that they contain such a large amount of DNA, can make them particularly dangerous, explain the researchers who discovered P. Siberia since they can stick around for an extremely long time. “Special environments such as deep ocean sediments and permafrost are very good preservers of microbes because they are cold, anoxic , and dark,” they add.
Though they have remained safely contained so far, global heating and human action could cause them to resurface and come back to life, which might bring about unknown threats to health. “Mining and drilling mean digging through these ancient layers for the first time in millions of years.
Also, in 2014, researchers from the John Inner Center in Norwich, United Kingdom, found that certain bacteria, known as cytoplasm, ” turn some plants into zombies.” While the transformation does not cause the plant to die, researchers are fascinated by how cytoplasm can bend this host’s “will” to make it grow the elements they require spreading and thrive.
The final case study concerned another woman who had “died” at 18 but was spotted again as a zombie 13 years after this event. The first “zombie” had catatonic schizophrenia, a rare condition that makes the person act as though they are walking in a stupor.
“People with a chronic schizophrenic illness, brain damage, or learning disability are not uncommonly met with wandering in Haiti, and they would be particularly likely to be identified as lacking volition and memory which are characteristics of a zombie,” the researchers write in their paper. But there is also a specific psychiatric disorder called Coward’s syndrome that can cause people to act like zombies.