Zombies (in nature)!

With Halloween just past us, the Walking Dead has made its comeback (yay walk-tober!) and the scientists inside gets us all thinking- are there really a possibility for zombies to exist? Can these mindless, soulless entities really exist?

Funnily enough, or rather scarily enough, this zombie-like behaviour is not new to nature! There are several terrifying phenomena occurring within the invertebrate species.

The stuff of nightmares! Fungus infecting the ant. https://i.pinimg.com/564x/54/e6/e1/54e6e15d9179f5c728ce87a24fe99c3a.jpg

First of all, there are the zombie ants in Thailand, leaving their normal habitats and suddenly begin to climb up to a specific altitude in the trees, clamp down onto a leaf and die. This weird behaviour has a tiny mastermind behind it: O.Unilateralis fungus. The fungus infects the ants, and leads it to the optimum  conditions, that the fungus needs to thrive, but cannot reach alone. The specificity of the control, which makes the ants all go to a certain direction, height, and temperature has baffled scientists. The fungus would then produce spores, bursting out of the poor ants and then spreading to other poor unsuspecting ants, enslaving them further and continuing their reign of terror!

Whilst a caterpillar might be contemplating its future as a beautiful moth, the baculovirus might have other ideas. After infection, the virus takes over, causing the gypsy moth caterpillar to climb high up within the branches of the tree, whilst enzymes are liquefying all its internal organs. The caterpillar then detonates, like a virus filled-bomb, raining down its insides into the surrounding area, onto other caterpillars, and further spreading the baculovirus…

Then there are the wasps. WASPS. If they didn’t cause you to flee from the immediate vicinity screaming…think again! Wasps have also mastered some mind control methods, practising on cockroaches. Injecting their venom into the roach’s body, the Emerald Jewel Wasp is able to in essence drive the roach to its nest, where the roach is fed to the baby emerald jewel wasps. The venom contains neurotoxins which prevents the roach from running away in fear, instead it begins to be led towards the wasp-nest, where it is devoured.

The ferocious Emerald Jewel wasp. https://www.pinterest. se/pin/487796203360131077/

Pandemics are definitely not a new concept- it is easy for microorganism to be transmitted in the air, or water, via blood, etc. in our ever-changing world, with improved travel, and connections, brings the danger of spread of disease.

However, we do have a lot of mechanisms put in place to prevent such spreads, and tight regulations maintained by the WHO, so it’s unlikely that we will need to start stockpiling for our underground bunkers right now!

It is interesting, albeit frightening, to imagine how natural selection and mutations may affect these microorganisms, and if they will ever be able to enslave humans the same way…*screams*

 

References:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758193/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-a-wasp-turns-cockroaches-into-zombies/

https://www.livescience.com/15962-zombie-caterpillar-virus.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3828166/