Parasites and Fungi That Terrorize Nature [Video]

parasites

There are many parts of nature, such as parasites and fungi, spreading not just themselves and diseases to animals and bugs but fear to humans. Nothing on the list has been confirmed to affect humans in any way. However there are probably some that would prefer these stay with insects and animals. These parasitic and fungal organisms take advantage of natural behavior to spread millions of spores or just a single egg, continuing to hitch along the circle of life.

One of the most recent discoveries in nature involves a parasitic plant called strangleweed that not only attaches, but almost fully changes any food source. Jim Westwood of Virginia Tech made the discovery of this parasite.It accesses genetic material from Cuscuta pentagona (strangleweed) through hooks that rob plants of their nutrients while tendrils coil around and strangle the host body. The language exchanged on a “Genomic-scale” with the mRNA is theorized to drop the guard of host plants, giving this particular parasite easy access to needed nutrients.

There are some fungi that terrorize nature on a more specialized scale than parasites. Cordyceps sinesis is so specialized with its application and distribution that each of the over 400 documented species is born and bred to only affect one kind of creature, including some other fungi. This genus operates by a specific pattern of infecting a host, taking control of their motor functions, and moving their “zombified” body towards the highest point possible before stalks and mushrooms burst from the body, ensuring the widest possible distribution.

A popular video game called The Last of Us toyed with the idea of Cordyceps jumping to humans, turning entire cities into controlled hosts of various infection stages from parasites, but of course that jump has not happened. In fact, some species of Cordyceps from caterpillars in China and Tibet are believed to have medicinal purposes.

An example of parasites that takes advantage of the food cycle goes by the name of Leucochloridium paradoxum. This flatworm begins wherever bird droppings fall and attaches to the inside of any wandering snail that grazes near the pile, heading undigested into any available organ. Generations of the paradoxum pass before it begins putting embryo sacks onto the eye stalks, causing swelling, throbbing, and discoloration. The purpose behind this attachment is to stretch and transform the stalks to look like colorful caterpillars. Then, a kind of mind control forces the snail to abandon cover in daylight, attracting birds to snatch and eat an egg-covered stalk to restart the cycle. The snail remains paralyzed on the ground, still bait for other unsuspecting birds.

Some animals and insects also exhibit parasitic tendencies, even if not technically parasitic themselves. One example is the female Emerald Cockroach Wasp that attacks the underbelly of roaches, paralyzing them first before moving the stinger to precisely sting its brain. This injection causes the roach to compulsively groom itself for a time before becoming very still, fully compliant as the wasp begins drinking blood through either antennae, just as parasites would. Then comes an entombment process where the obedient roach is left with a single wasp egg near its stomach while the female walls off the process of her baby being hatched with a full supply of food and continuing the parasitic cycle.

By Myles Gann

Sources:

Wired (Snail)
Wired (Wasp)
Tech Times
British Broadcasting Company
Web MD
International Business Times

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