Nature is beautiful and romantic. Right? Lions racing freely on the vast savannah. Eagles soaring under the golden sunshine. But also wasps that zombify cockroaches? Worms that grow under your skin? Bacteria that kills off all males within a population? We live in such a lovely world. Whether you like it or not, nature contains numerous adorable parasites that even a sci-fi author couldn’t have thought of.
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5. The ultimate French kiss: Cymothoa exigua
Well, good news! As you puke along, keep in mind that these parasites are not found in human bodies yet. Cymothoa exigua is a kind of isopod (cousin of shrimps) obsessed with tongues. Born as males, these parasites camp and mature in fish gills. Eventually, one of these parasites becomes female and crawls onto the tongue of the fish. She then begins to suck blood from the tongue until the tongue withers and falls off. Fortunately, this lovely parasite compensates for the loss. The female parasite occupies the mouth of the fish and becomes its new prosthetic tongue. When this happens, the other male parasites crawl out from their gill camps and mate with these fake tongues. The newborns swim into gills of other fish, and the cycle continues.
4. What’s that on your eyelash: Demodex
Are you grossed out when a bug crawls on your face? Too bad, a study shows that all of our faces are teeming with mites, relatives of spiders. These micro-neighbors dwell in your hair follicles (where our hair grows from) and are in love with the oil produced by your face. As a result, most of them are buried in your eyelids, cheeks, or chin. However, they are also found in places such as nipples, forearms, and butts. Interestingly, these face mites lack anuses and are incapable of pooping. Instead, the waste gradually bursts out from them after they die under your skin. While they are usually stationary, these micro-spiders are more active in darkness. When the lights are dim or off, they climb out and mate with one another on your face. Before you spray DDT on your face, be rest reassured that these mites are so small that they can cause no serious harm…in most cases.
3. Suicidal grasshoppers: horsehair worms
Horse hair worms are named after their appearance. Hatched in freshwater environments, the larvae of these parasites live peacefully at the bottom of rivers. Their adventure begins once they are eaten by insects such as mosquitoes and mayflies. As these infected insects fly around, they may be eaten by naïve, hungry crickets. Once inside the cricket, the horsehair worm goes through the gut and grows in the cricket’s body cavity to around 31 cm (180cm in cockroaches). When the worm fully matures, they take partial control of the brain while the infected cricket waves goodbye to its family, belly flops into a random stream, and dies. The worm then crawls out and mates with others. Home sweet home.
2. Zombie ants: Lancet Fluke
The life of lancet flukes starts when an unsuspecting snail chows down a piece of delicious cow feces that contains eggs of lancet flukes. Once inside the snail, these embryos grow comfortably into adults. Adult flukes venture to their host’s lungs where they are coughed out as black slime balls. Sweet and attractive to ants, these slime balls are then consumed by ants hunting for food. Most of the flukes enter the ant’s abdomen while others attack the nervous system. The flukes then prepare for their mind-control scheme. The following night, this poor ant switches its personality and wanders off from its colony to cling onto a random blade of grass. In the morning, the ant is released from the mind-control to work alongside its colleagues. This day-night routine continues until it is eaten by a cow along with the blade of grass.
1. A brand new eyeball: Leucochloridium paradoxum
This flatworm enter snails through bird feces. It first penetrates through the snail’s digestive tract and grows into a long tube. Eventually, they poke through the eye tentacle, preferring the left, and present their swollen, colorful body. Whereas normal snails prefer darkness to avoid predators, infected snails are commanded to crawl toward the light where its new eyestalk wiggles intensely. As a result, birds are tricked into seeing a buffet of energetic caterpillars dancing on snails and tempted into swallowing the infected snails. Once inside the bird, the worm then lays eggs in the digestive tracts. The new borns then exit as bird feces, and the cycle continues.
Next time you marvel at how beautiful nature is, remember that there are some really nasty creatures roaming around. Watch out for what you eat, drink, and touch or else the next victim will be you.
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