1. Exploding Zombie Ants
It’s hard to be a carpenter ant in the rainforests of Thailand and Brazil. Normally these insects hang out in the tree canopy, marching in dutiful lines and munching on leaves. Once in a while they venture to the forest floor in search of snacks, and that’s when the terror starts.
A type of Ophiocordyceps fungus infects the ant’s brain, forcing it to wander drunkenly before joining other zombie ants on the underside of a certain leaf that the fungus really likes. In this zombie ant graveyard, the ants simultaneously take one last bite, essentially gluing themselves to the leaf, before expiring. After the ant dies, the fungus sprouts from its head and shoots out spores to start the process all over again.
2. Drunken Zombie Bees
Honey bees are dying in unprecedented numbers, but who knew there could be a fate worse than death? A parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, likes to lay eggs in the bees’ abdomen. The poor bee loses its ability to buzz in a straight line, instead wandering about in a zombie-like stupor. About seven days later, up to 25 mature fly larvae emerge from the area between the bee’s head and thorax. Happy birthday for the flies, funeral march for the bee.
3. Flesh-Eating Zombie Birds
With a name like “Great Tit” you might be tempted to make a casual joke or two at this bird’s expense. Don’t. It might be the last thing you ever do. Although it typically feasts on seeds and nuts, this bird has been known to overwhelm smaller birds and even bats, smashing their skulls and then feasting on the flesh.
4. Liquified Zombie Caterpillars
Gypsy moth caterpillars typically live uneventful lives. After hatching, the larvae spend a while munching on leaves, molting a couple of times before finally pupating and becoming a moth. That’s assuming they never come into contact with a particular type of baculovirus. It was recently discovered that a gene in this caterpillar virus is capable of sending its victims into the treetops during the day, where, instead of molting, they die and their bodies liquefy (see above), raining virus-laden ooze onto their brothers and sisters below.
5. Impregnated Crab Zombies
Crab claws can be pretty intimidating, but they’re no match for Sacculina carcini – a parasitic barnacle that injects itself into the crab’s bloodstream, growing inside with only its female reproductive organ protruding from the crab’s abdomen as a telltale sign (see above).
The Sacculina then castrates the crab, completing the takeover of its insides, mind and body – creating a zombie crab that refuses to eat. Eventually the parasite releases its larva into the water, and the crab, whose purpose has been served, finally expires.
7. Alien-Tongue Fish Zombie
Were you scared by the Aliens? Well, prepare to be terrified because this is it’s real life equivalent. There’s a parasitic crustacean in the ocean called Cymothoa exigua. This body-snatcher likes to latch onto the tongue of the spotted rose snapper fish, sucking the blood out of the organ until it dies and falls off. The parasite then REPLACES the tongue with ITSELF by attaching itself onto the tongue stub that’s left over.
8. Ladybug Thug Zombie
In a swift and seamless attack, adult Dinocampus coccinellae wasps lay a single egg inside the body of the innocent ladybug. The wasp larva eats its way through the ladybug’s insides, then pops out and spins a cocoon. But that’s not the end of this chilling tale. The paralyzed ladybug lives on as a zombie thug, actually helping to protect the helpless larva from other bugs that might eat it.
9. Psychotic Spider Zombie
Normally, spiders are the mortal enemy of flying insects like the orb weaver. Once tangled in that nearly invisible web, it’s only a matter of time before they become spidey snacks. Unless that flying insect happens to be the tropical parasitic wasp species Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga.
When ready to lay eggs, the female wasp paralyzes the orb weaver with a quick sting, then deposits her future children in the spider’s abdomen. Soon the larva emerges and remains attached to the spider, sucking on its insides for nourishment. The spider DOESN’T DIE. In a few weeks, when it’s time for the wasp larva to build its cocoon, it takes the lazy way out, using a powerful chemical to force the zombie spider to spin it instead.
10. Blinded Snail Zombie
The flatworm Leucochloridium paradoxum lives its adult life inside birds and its eggs are spread by bird excretion. How does it get inside the bird, you ask? That’s where the snails come in. “Amber snails eat the eggs, which hatch in the snail’s digestive tract. The larva changes into sporocysts (or broodsacs), which elongate and invade the snail’s tentacles atop its head. The broodsacs, filled with hundred of Leucochloridium paradoxum, pulsate and seek light. The snail is helpless to retract its tentacles, and has lost its ability to perceive light and therefore does not hide. The inflated tentacles move like worms, attracting birds that bite off the tentacles.”
11. Cockroach Cradle Zombie
We’ve probably all killed a cockroach or two, but even Raid seems humane compared to what the jewel wasp does to these bomb-proof insects. With a single jab into the brain, the wasp injects a substance that controls the roach’s free will and movement. The cockroach then becomes a zombie incubator for the wasp larva, and when it hatches, the baby wasp’s first meal.
12. Head-For-The-Light Zombie Shrimp
OK so the gammarid isn’t actually a shrimp. More like a shrimplike crustacean, but that’s beside the point. This innocent looking bottom dweller is a favorite target of the thorny-headed worm, a parasite with sharp hooks where its mouth should be. Once it has invaded the poor gammarid, it alters the shrimp’s brain chemistry, forcing it to lose interest in mating and swim dangerously close to the water’s surface. This makes the shrimp easy prey for nearby ducks. Once a duck eats the shrimp, the thorny-headed worm lays its eggs inside the duck, completing the life cycle.
13. Zombie Rat/Cat Poop Love Triangle
Of all the horrific zombies so far, a tiny critter known as Toxoplasma gondii is the one that should scare you the most. Why? Because it can be passed to humans. This microscopic brain-muncher can only reproduce in cat feces. When mice or rats consume the feces (yeah, they do that) the Toxo protozoans migrate to the brain, where they proceed to wreak total havoc.
Once inside, toxo is capable of removing whatever it is that makes rodents hate the smell of cats. Without this inhibitor, The rats are drawn to the cats, the cats eat the rats, and the circle of life begins anew. Even scarier is that recent research suggests “Toxo does something to humans quite reminiscent to what it does to rats and mice.” All the more reason to avoid touching and/or accidentally eating any cat turds.