It Was Not Death, for I Stood Up by Emily Elizabeth Dickinson and revisited by Jennifer Weigel: Series Index
Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we will look into zombie snails, because we were having so much with the Whore Snails recently. So this is a lot like the Freaky Fungus except that this time it’s a parasitic worm that is the cause of the horror… Leucochloridium paradoxum, the green-banded broodsac worm, forces snails to be a part of its nefarious plans to take over the world (well, really more just continue on keeping on in its strange and bizarre life cycle).
This Is What We Get for Eating Poop
The worm, which spends much of its life as a parasite in birds’ digestive systems, is part of a weird cycle that includes both birds and snails, though the snail end is much creepier. It starts when a snail ingests worm eggs in bird droppings. These eggs hatch into worm larvae that eventually turn the poor hosts into zombie snails! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The worm larvae work their way up into the snails’ brains and take over, hijacking them on suicide missions to continue their own life cycle. These worm larvae eventually grow large and worm their way into the poor snail’s eye stalks, pulsing and throbbing therein to resemble maggots or other tasty treats.
The worms use the zombie snails to get into their bird hosts by mind-controlling them into climbing out of the shady undergrowth where they will be easily spotted by bird predators which will feed on them, ingesting the eye stalks and continuing the worm’s life cycle as it gets into the bird’s digestive tract. The huge, bulging eye stalks are irresistible to birds looking to snatch maggots and other delicious delicacies. Eventually, after the worms are well ensconced in its bird hosts, the bird poops out more worm eggs for unsuspecting snails to ingest, completing the cycle.
You can watch this in action on Nat Geo Wild: World’s Deadliest here, if you dare. Warning, it’s a little gross but not near so much as some of the other topics we’ve covered. If you enjoyed this slimy segment of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we are considering Komodo Dragons. These awesome lizards are the largest in the world and are native to Indonesia. The lizards don’t get to be full-sized without feasting on a lot of meat and are known to prey on animals notably larger than themselves, even including deer and water buffalo. But honestly, they pretty much eat anything they can get a hold of, including smaller Komodo Dragons.
Beyond Bad Breath
If you’ve ever wondered just how far really bad oral hygiene can take you, then look no further. Although the Komodo lacks the bite strength to employ strangulation as an attack strategy, like crocodiles do, it is a dangerous and formidable hunter. Long assumed to be the result of bacterial infection, Komodo bites are outright deadly, and this is in part due to their thick viscous saliva. It’s all about the spit, ’bout the spit, that trouble. Eat your hearts out, Rottweilers, you ain’t got nothing on this.
And Komodo Dragons rend their victims’ flesh with serrated teeth and saw into the muscle, adding to the wounds’ ability to fester. Because of course they do. If you want to see some horrifying pictures of how this plays out, you can read about it in this NIH National Library of Medicine account of a zookeeper attack and recovery, complete with full color images not for the feint of heart. Just wow, what a meaty mess…
Bacteria Versus Venom
It has more recently been shown that Komodos, like other Monitor lizards, actually do possess venomous saliva, and that this can inhibit clotting and cause blood loss, paralysis, and extreme pain, symptoms previously believed to result from bacterial infection. It’s possible that their bite contains some of both, and in reality the why doesn’t matter so much as the ewww factor.
So regardless of whether there is venom or bacteria at play, a Komodo Dragon’s bite is nasty nasty. Like you don’t want any part of those so-called love nips, even more so than with sharks. (Side tidbit: male sharks have a propensity for biting during mating, so female sharks’ hides are thicker to withstand this sort of engagement. In fairness, sharks use their teeth to explore the world around them, so this comes as no surprise really.)
If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause
So reindeer aren’t generally thought of as all that scary, unless you have elafiphobia. But since it is the holiday season and they are among the most celebrated animals this time of year, here are some fun facts about reindeer and their deer kin that are weird and even a bit creepy.
Female reindeer also have antlers and continue to grow them during Christmastime, whereas the males shed theirs in November. So the antlered reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are girls.
Some reindeer make a clicking sound as they walk so they can stay together as they travel through adverse weather. Better than yelling “Marco” (or “Polo” in response) around every bend…
Deer have very good night vision and reindeer can even see ultraviolet light, which helps them to spot predators and find food in the arctic. Speaking of food, deer have been known to gnaw on bones or flesh (including that of humans) and even eat small animals like birds and mice.
Some deer species, like Musk Deer, grow fang-like tusks instead of antlers, making them appear vampirish. They use their tusks like other deer use their antlers, with males fighting one another during breeding season. Tusks also come in handy when foraging for food and fending off predators. Plus they really up the deer’s Goth presence…
And if you’re into teeth, upper canines among whitetail deer are rare and have been highly prized. They’ve even been incorporated into prehistoric necklaces and royal jewelry, ‘cause teeth used as decorative accents are always a bit macabre.
Previously on Nightmarish Nature
So there are some fun, somewhat creepy facts about deer. If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Oh, and in the spirit of the holidays, here’s the reindeer’s top pick for a Christmas song, Must Be Santa as sung by Bob Dylan…