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Five Real-Life Zombies Found in Nature

October 25 2021 | Aline Zimmerma…

Possessed creatures behaving unnaturally and controlled by dark and mysterious forces… That’s right, I’m talking about zombies! And real ones too! Organisms being compelled against their will is more common than you’d think…! Read on to learn about some of nature’s real-life zombies!

#1 Zombie Ants

Some of the most famous zombies from the animal world are zombie ants, first documented all the way back in 1859 by world-famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Sometimes, in tropical rainforests, carpenter ants become infected by a type of fungus called “cordyceps.” One month later, the ants become puppets, with their muscles controlled by the fungus, and are compelled to leave their nest and find a long plant stalk to climb. Once up top, the ant cannot help but take hold of a stem or a leaf and then wait… to die. The fungus then grows shoots out of the ant’s head (what’s known as a “sporophore”) to give rise to a mushroom… How’s that for appetizing?



#2 Zombie Ladybugs

A little closer to home, in Eastern Canada, scientists from Université de Montréal have shown that spotted ladybugs can become true-to-life zombies and rendered to slaves by a little wasp called Dinocampus coccinellae. The wasp lays an egg in the ladybug’s body and at the same time injects a virus that lets it take over its brain. The egg hatches and the larva feeds on the ladybug’s body, though without kill it. After leaving the ladybug’s body, this “baby wasp” is kept safe by… the very same ladybug! The most surprising is that the ladybug often survives the whole ordeal and sometimes even resumes its normal life as if nothing had happened.


#3 Zombie Crickets

Horsehair worms live in water, but during their larval phase they are parasites to a number of insect species. They particularly like crickets, even if crickets hate the water and avoid it as much as they can! No problem for the horsehair worm larvae since they strangely take over the brains of their hosts and compel them to jump in a lake or a river the first chance they get, which usually amounts to suicide for the poor insect!



#4 Zombie Crabs

Sacculina” are small parasitic barnacles that enter and invade the bodies of crabs. The infected crab then finds itself infertile yet can still “give birth” to Sacculina eggs that were laid in its body. And wouldn’t you know it… the crab protects these eggs as if they were its own!


#5 Zombie Rats

The zombie phenomenon extends far beyond the world of invertebrates. Parasites can also invade mammals to control their behaviour too. Take for example the Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects cats. It uses other creatures to infect other cats. Its favourite host? Rats. Stranger still is that infected rats completely lose their fear of felines and find themselves attracted to the smell of… cats! By compelling the rat to act in ways that make it more likely to be eaten by a cat, T. gondii brilliantly ensures the survival of its species. Researchers have recently proposed that it is the parts of the rat brain responsible for sexual attraction that become altered and compel the rat to become somehow sexually attracted to the smell of cats, which under normal circumstances would be repugnant to it!


So, on October 31…

When you come across human zombies in the night, now you’ll know just how many relatives they have out there! Happy Halloween!


Written by: Aline Zimmermann Maya Simoes

Illustrations by: Catalina Villegas Burgos

Aline Zimmermann Maya Simoes
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