As anyone who’s watched a few episodes of Planet Earth knows well, the natural world is filled with a seemingly endless supply of biological horror. Weird fish and creepy reptiles coexist with strange parasites and fucked-up bugs, living out their lives in bizarre ecosystems. Because there has to be a silver lining to the fast-approaching destruction of our planet, Wired’s Matt Simon has decided to share important details on a real hall-of-famer nightmare creatures: the so-called “zombie snail.”
The clip shared by Mike Inouye shows this goopy freak in action, but a full description of the unsettling process by which a “zombie snail” is made is important for anyone hoping to alienate their friends in upcoming conversations. As Simon’s article explains, the snail is being controlled by a parasitic worm called Leucochloridium. This wriggly little nightmare “invades a snail’s eyestalks, where it pulsates to imitate a caterpillar” and “mind-controls its host out into the open for hungry birds to pluck out its eyes.” The vore-enthusiast worm then “breeds in the bird’s guts, releasing its eggs in the bird’s feces, which are happily eaten up by another snail to complete the whole bizarre life cycle.”
With a little help from biologist Tomasz Wesołowski—the scientist who discovered that the parasite could actually take control of amber snails a few years ago—Simon goes on to fully explain the rest of Leucochloidium’s work. It turns out it “castrates its host,” “sends out branches that tunnel through the snail’s body,” and makes the poor snail’s eyestalks appear to dance once it’s filled them with “a brood sac full of larvae.” In order to get eaten by a bird, the parasite also forces its snail host out into daylight and onto higher branches and leaves. For further horror, consider, too, that birds “don’t typically go after snails” so, after eating the parasite-filled eyestalks, they’ll leave the snail behind to “not only survive, but...regenerate” their chewed-off bits and “regain the ability to reproduce.”
The entire Wired article is worth reading if you want further details on one of the strangest, most unfortunate creatures in the world. If nothing else, the tale of the “zombie snail” might make all of us feel a bit better about our own lot in life. Debt, relationship problems, illness—how can anything seem so bad when our eyes and genitals are free of parasites and our bodies still are controlled by our own minds instead of nasty little worms?
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