We can hypothesize about human zombies and the apocalypse all we want, but the fact is that mother nature has already done its zombification!
There are animals on this planet that have either been zombified or are capable of infecting other animals and turning them into real life zombies!
1. Zombie Ant
Leaf-cutter ants in Southeast Asia have their minds controlled by an infectious fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which makes the ant walk to the perfect position in the forest before killing its host, bursting through the ant’s skull, and releasing its spores into the forest.
But, there’s more, ants have been targeted by another creature, and that is a butterfly!
Maculina rebeli, a European butterfly, lay eggs that exude the scent of ant queens.
Worker ants welcome them into their colony. The butterflies emerge as caterpillars which are fed by the ants.
The ants treat them as their own young, or even better than ordinary ant larvae since they perceive the caterpillars to be queen ant larvae.
Worker ants will even defend the caterpillars against their own queen!
2. Zombie Crabs
A barnacle named Sacculina wants to nest inside a crab and it will look for a place to enter the crab’s body.
When it does, it will leave its shell behind, not needing it anymore as it has the crab! Inside, Sacculina sets up shop, growing tendrils through the crab’s body and slowly feeding on it.
It castrates the crab (if male) and effectively turns the crab into a female nanny for its young. The barnacle bores a hole open in the crab’s shell big enough to let male Sacculina in to mate.
The zombie crab treats the Sacculina eggs and larvae as its own, having lost the will to do anything but serve its parasite master.
3. Zombie Caterpillar
Glyptapanteles is a wasp that lays its eggs in the body of a caterpillar. This is a three layered parasitic infection.
The wasps engage the help of a virus (oh really?!), or more accurately a polydnavirus that has been genetically modified by the wasps, to disable the caterpillar’s immune system, allowing the wasp eggs to survive.
The eggs hatch and feed on the caterpillar, but do not kill it. Instead, the caterpillar stops developing and spends the rest of its life protecting the wasp larva, even going as far as spinning its own cocoon around the wasp pupae.
When the adult wasp emerges from its cocoon, the zombie caterpillar finally tastes the sweet release of death.
4. Zombie Grasshoppers
The parasitic hairworm Spinochordodes tellinii is deadly to grasshoppers.
Once eaten by a grasshopper or cricket, the larval worm produces proteins that affect the insect’s brain and nervous system.
By the time the worm reaches adulthood, the insect is completely under its power.
The zombie grasshopper commits suicide by jumping into water, where the worm will emerge and look for a mate.
5. Zombie Cockroaches
The female jewel wasp, injects its tetrodotoxin into a cockroach’s brain, shutting down the roach’s fight-or-flight response.
The wasp then leads the drugged bug into its burrow, lays its eggs upon the cockroach’s abdomen and, eight days later, the larvae hatch and feed upon the roach, burrowing into its innards.
The cockroach is alive throughout and under the wasp’s control.
6. Zombie Fish
The parasitic worm Euhaplorchis californiensis infects three other species in a cycle, and alters the behavior of two of them.
First, the eggs are consumed by horn snails. While living inside a snail, sometimes for several generations, Euhaplorchis inhibits the snail’s fertility.
The parasite will eventually leave the snail and infect the gills of a killifish.
The worms will surround the fish’s brain and cause it to swim near the surface and wiggle around.
This makes the fish more likely to be eaten by a bird, which is what Euhaplorchis wanted in the first place.
The digestive system of a bird is where the worm lays its eggs, which are excreted onto the beach where snails can reach them.
A step forward for the zombification
We all know how zombies are portrayed in movies today, undead humans with deteriorated body functions except for the brain, which is functional, therefore you need to destroy the brain to kill the zombie (duh!).
A proteinaceous infectious particle, or prion, is the infectious agents that brought us mad cow disease.
When a misshapen prion enters our system, as in the case of mad cow, the rest of our prions take on its shape and the mind literally begins turning into mush.
And since prions aren’t even alive, they are nearly impossible to destroy.
There are no known cures for prion-based diseases, and the proteins can still infect others years after their host-victim has died.
Prions began to be linked to zombie-like diseases in the early 1950s, when Australian administrators were exploring the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea and discovered that members of the Fore tribe had been afflicted with a strange tremble, occasionally punctuated with bursts of uncontrollable laughter.
The tribe called the disease kuru, and by the early ’60s Australian doctor Michael Alpers had traced its source back to the Fore’s cannibalistic funeral practices, especially brain eating.
Prions aren’t airborne…yet. But a new study from a group of pathologists in Zurich, Switzerland took concentrations of aerosolized prions and exposed mice to the spray.
It turned out to be 100 percent lethal.
Now, doesn’t that fill you with optimism?!