Zombie Creatures: What Happens When Animals Are Possessed by a Parasitic Puppet Master? [Slide Show]

From fungi to flies, some parasitic species have figured out how to control their host's behavior to get what they need. See what happens when bugs go really bad
1 of 6


A parasite that lives to change mouse behavior may also be altering the way humans act. The parasitic protozoa Toxoplasma gondii thrives by cycling through feline and rodent hosts. When it infects mice, the brain-dwelling parasite makes them more daring and, in particular, less afraid of the scent of cats (so it can get passed back to the feline hosts when they eat the infected, emboldened rodents).....[ More ]


Ants do their best to avoid being snatched up as snacks. Their dark coloring can help them blend into their surroundings and prevent would-be predators from spotting individual targets in a nest. For a parasite that seeks to find its way back into a bird host, however, this arrangement needed some alteration .....[ More ]


Ants infected with a spooky breed of fungus ( Ophiocordyceps unilateralis ) have been shown to march to that parasite's orders. Usually tropical treetop-dwellers, these infected Camponotus leonardi ants will climb down to low leaves that are just in the right spot for the fungus to thrive (at very specific orientation, temperature and height), then chomp onto a leaf vein with a so-called "death grip".....[ More ]


Crickets can't swim, but the harrowing hairworm ( Spinochordodes tellinii ) doesn't care about that detail. After growing inside of a cricket's body and feasting on its insides, the hairworm will inexplicably compel the cricket to throw itself into a body of water , where the ruthless body snatcher can emerge and enter the aquatic phase of its life cycle.....[ More ]


In a well-documented example of external parasite control, an emerald cockroach wasp ( Ampulex compressa ) enslaves a much larger cockroach ( Periplaneta americana ). The wasp injects a neurotoxin into the cockroach's brain.....[ More ]


Why would a caterpillar protect wasp cocoons from invaders? The wasps (of the genus Glyptapanteles ) are controlling the caterpillar. "Just before the wasp [larva] emerges from the caterpillar, it produces a toxin that causes the caterpillar to be a bodyguard" for the wasp larvae, explains David Hughes , a research fellow at the University of Exeter.....[ More ]

risk free title graphic

YES! Send me a free issue of Scientific American with no obligation to continue the subscription. If I like it, I will be billed for the one-year subscription.

cover image Subscribe Now
Share this Article:

Celebrate Pi Approximation Day
with us!

Get 3 of our best-selling Pi topic issues
Plus a FREE Bonus Issue!

Add to your cart now for just $9.99 >


Email this Article