Zombies roam in the wild

There are a lot of conspiracies about mind control. Do we have a free will? Do our thoughts are controlled by masters of the simulation we live in? There are simpler ways to manipulate animals mind and this article is about mind control in the wild.

Fungi turns ants into zombies

There is a magnificent parasite called zombie-ant fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It is a fatal pathogen of ants which live in Brazilian Amazon forests. And you think that the nail fungus is bad! O. unilateralis is not only a nasty infection which spreads through whole ants’ organism but also forces it to go on suicide mission.

Ants which live in Brazil Amazon forest can be hosts of a parasitic fungus which takes over control of ants' bodies.
Poor ant is not only infected by zombie-ant fungus but also huge mushrooms grow from ants head.

Infections usually starts from a single cell (spore) which multiplies while circulating in blood stream. After that, at some point when the number of fungus cells is critical individual cells starts to cooperate and works as a superorganism. That’s bad news for an ant because fungus cells overrule ants mind and forces it to climb up to plants stems in a precise 25 cm high. It forces ant to bite a leave or a branch of a plant with mandibles and stay attached to it. Why exactly 25 cm? There are great conditions for O. unilateralis to thrive: great temperature, humidity and just right weak flow of the air. What is more, it’s a perfect location to spread fungus spores on other ants. Also, I forgot to mention that mushroom of O. unilateralis grows from an ant’s head!

As far as we know, zombie-ant fungus does not damage ants’ brain. Fungus is found all over ants’ body muscles. So, there is a chance that ant understand that someone else is controlling the body. Creepy fungus.

Flatworm forces snails to go on suicide mission

Parasitic flatworm Leucochloridium paradoxum can infect various species of snails. It deforms snails eyestalks and manipulates snails neural system. As a result snail with bright eyestalks crowls to open area and attracts snail-eating birds.
Not only snails eye-stalks are deformed by flatworm but also snails mind is manipulated to climb to open area and be eaten by a bird.

Suicidal snail might sound like a comedy character. However, there is a nasty parasitic flatworm Leucochloridium paradoxum which uses snails as host. After the infection worm grows in snails’ eyestalks and they starting to look like nice and juicy caterpillars. After that worm forces snail to climb up on grass stems or go in an open area. Bright snails’ eyestalks are easily seen by snail eating birds. As a result, snails are killed, and worm gets what it wants. Birds intestine track is a place where these flatworms reproduce.

How does flatworm get from a bird’s intestines to the organism of a snail? Snails are non-choosy eaters – they eat basically everything what can be found on the ground. As a result, after infected bird poops, there is a great chance that delicious faeces will be eaten by slugs or snails. And the journey of L. paradoxum starts again…

Single cell parasite can encourage rodents to be eaten

There is a cute single cell protozoon called Toxoplasma gondii. These little buddies live in out kitty cats’ intestines. How do they get there? They need to manipulate the mind to complete their complicated circle of life.

T. gondii reproduces in cat’s gastrointestinal tract. However, to spread all over the world they evolved to have two life stages: one in cats intestines cell and other in muscles of rodents. It is frightening that muscle cyst are found not only inside rodents’ muscles but also sheep, pigs and even human. Even though, symptoms are not fatal for humans, there is such an illness called taxoplasmosis. It does not cause severe symptoms; however, we cannot be sure that it does not change our mind as it does for rodents’ brain.

A lot of cats are infected with Taxoplasma gondii protozoa. Infection spread because they main source of food - rodens are also a part of T. gondii life cycle.
Outdoor cats quite often are infected by T. gondii and can spread to humans through their feces.

T. gondii changes rodents’ understanding of fear. Instead of naturally avoiding the smell of cats’ urine, infected rodents do not react to it in any way. As a result, they are not cautious about potential danger – cats; and are easily hunted by them. If the simple protozoa can affect rodents mind like this, just think how many species of single cell organisms live around us. We can never be sure that some of them do not affect decision making of humans as well.

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