Everybody loves zombies. They are arguably the most diabolical creatures of fiction to entertain our televisions. Yet one need not escape to the land of fiction to encounter a zombie. The zombie apocalypse is already here. Zombies pervade the Earth and can be found in all shapes and sizes. In fact, some philosophers who deny the existence of consciousness insist that we are born zombies. But maybe these philosophers are just obsessed with “The Walking Dead.”
So what is a zombie? Traditionally, zombies have been understood as the walking dead who lack conscious experience and exhibit cannibalistic behavior. Usually, a zombie is the corollary of virus that infects a host, annihilates conscious experience and controls anatomical behavior. A zombie is, in essence, a parasite. In this context, a zombie can be found in any biology textbook.
The biological definition of a zombie requires elaboration. Let us refer to these creatures as “natural zombies.” As referenced earlier, a zombie is usually understood as a being that lacks conscious experience and exhibits cannibalistic behavior. Yet many animals are omnivores and already lack the conscious experience associated with ourselves. Just ask, is a zombie dog logically possible? The sole purpose for any organism, biologically speaking, is to propagate its genes. In fact, the zombie analogy can be extended to genes themselves, which build biological vehicles to propagate themselves from one generation to the next. Settings genes a side, however, a natural zombie can be understood as an organism that is controlled by a parasite and can no longer reproduce.
What are some examples natural zombies? Take your pick. Parasites outnumber external organisms four to one. In this sense, the zombie apocalypse is already here. Perhaps the most eminent example of a natural zombie is the parasite lancet fluke. The journey of lancet fluke is a bit of a rabbit trail. The eggs of lancet fluke our found in cow manure. Hungry snails come along and devour the manure along with the eggs. The eggs hatch, populate the digestive gland, and make their way up to the surface of the snail. The snail tries to ward off the parasite by secreting slime. The slime conglomerates around the parasite. The snail coughs up the parasite and leaves it behind in the grass.
The journey of lancet fluke has just begun. Ants find snail slime balls irresistible. An ant comes along and devours the slime ball. Once implanted inside the ant, lancet fluke then seizes a conglomeration of nerves that controls the ant’s mandibles. The parasite plucks these nerves like a set of violin strings. The parasite then forces the ant to climb to the tops of grass-blades in an effort to be consumed by a cow. However, if the ant did this all day, it would be scorched by the heat of the sun. Lances fluke can sense the external, thermal vicinity. Therefore, the fluke will set its host free during the day and seize control during the night. Once the ant is consumed by a cow, lancet fluke reproduces in the cow’s stomach. The parasite’s eggs are then seeded in the cow’s manure, where the process starts over.
Nature is far more terrifying than any fiction produced in a television nightmare. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people prefer to escape to the land of fiction than to live in a reality that is cold and brute. However, if it is creepy crawlers, the walking dead and chaos that our hearts desire, all we need to do is step into the bio-economy of our own backyard.
By Nathan Cranford