Mind control

Posted: November 4, 2012 in Random

Whenever I was feeling put-upon or unlucky, my parents would always say “there’s someone worse off than you”. But even the mention of my brother rarely did the trick. In all honestly, there are lots of organisms worse off than you. A starving African child, press ganged into an army run by a religious nutcase. A prostitute, addicted to crack cocaine. The chimpanzees I force to write this blog; kept in line with alcohol and frequent electric shocks (Ed. This is a joke. We love animals, and thus only use the most desperate interns to write this thing)

But however bad you feel, at least you’re not, for example, been mind controlled by a virulent parasite into harming yourself in order to protect your progeny. But that happens all the time in nature. Some hairworms, for example, dwell inside grasshoppers – until the time comes for them to enter the next stage in their life cycle. This they do via the extremely creepy mechanism of manipulating the grasshopper into jumping into an aquatic body, where the worm wriggles out of the grasshopper’s corpse and goes in search of some hot, hot hairworm sex (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT GOOGLE THAT. Ed.) The liver fluke causes ants to walk up grass stems, where a cow will eat the ant along with the grass, allowing the fluke to enter the body of the cow. Toxoplasma gondi makes rats unafraid of cats; but not because they want to increase the self esteem of rodents. Rather, it is because they can only breed inside a cat, and so by getting the rodent eaten, the protozoa (not really an animal, but we’ll let it pass. Ed.) can breed. The latter is also common in humans, and has been implicated in severe schizophrenia; although a study of some females revealed it might also increase intelligence, meaning that you can scream witty obscenities about the Jews at frightened children as you chase them down for calling you ‘Crazy cat lady’.

Even the fungi have got in on the act (FFS, that is definitely not an animal. Ed.) with the fungus Entomophthora muscae growing into a fly, digesting its body from the freaking inside out, and then growing into the brain, forcing the fly to climb upwards, onto a stalk. Why does it do this? Well, because from this high vantage point the fungal spores can spread far wider, spreading this disease elsewhere. It’s just a good thing that fhhasifh THE FUNGUS IS THE ONE TRUE LORDSAFHAGHSAHASH49TUFHAF ALL HAIL OUR FUNGAL OVERLORDS there isn’t a variety that can infect mammals.

Parasitic wasps are surprisingly common in nature, and reproduce by basically stinging their host, paralyzing it, and then laying their eggs nearby (or sometimes in the host itself). The larvae then hatch out, and eat into the host while it is still alive; sometimes carefully selecting the time and order in which they eat organs, so as to keep their meal alive for as long as possible. This is, of course, rather disturbing to anyone unacquainted with the fantastic horror that is reproduction (speak for yourself. Ed.) but there are some animals that combines both mind control and been eaten alive by hordes of ravenous larvae.

If Darwin said “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillarswhen talking about normal parasitic wasps, then when faced with these animals he would probably have said “I cannot persuade myself that I have not embarked upon an exceedingly bad acid trip; because, for real, these parasitoids are like eighteen different kinds of fucked up shit. Fuck.

Firstly, there is Glyptapanteles, a genus of parasitic wasps that do the usual, unspeakable horror thing of  lying its eggs inside a host (potentially as many as 80) – in this case a caterpillar of Thyrinteina leucocerae . After a while, the larvae, as Grosman et al 2008 put it, ‘egress’ (i.e. eat their way out) of the caterpillar and start spinning their cocoons. And this is where things get weird. The caterpillar is still alive, but it stops moving and eating, remaining near to the larvae which have just been developing inside of it. Equally, whenever a potential predator approaches, it swings its head, which apparently deters around 60% of predators (presumably, such predators are wimps).

Let’s run that again. As the larvae which recently ate their way out of its body  develop nearby, the caterpillar can only stay on one place, and deter the predators from eating those same larvae. There’s a B movie in that sentence alone.

Thought that was bad? Try Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga, a parasitic wasp from the Ichneumonidae family. This preys upon a species of spider. The adult stings the spider into temporary paralysis and lays a single egg. This then hatches, and it starts to feed on the spiders haemolymph as the spider recovers and goes around doing normal, spidery things. Then, one day, the parasite decides that time is up. It molts  kills, and drains the spider completely – but not before inducing the spider to spin a cocoon web. When the spider is devoured the parasite then uses this web to support its own cocoon. As the person who noticed this, Eberhard (2000) noted, this is in a league of its own; rather than simply making the host move in a certain way, the parasite makes the spider spin a completely new kind of web. Even if the parasite is removed, the spider will still spin this web – the chemical control the parasite uses is so strong the spider simply cannot resist spinning for the very parasite that will soon kill it. It’s like some alien parasite forcing a  human to look after it, all the while sucking his blood and plotting to kill him within the next day. Why this is not a movie escapes me.

And you thought looking after your baby cousins was bad.


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