Have you heard the one about the wasp that turns cockroaches into living food trucks for its larvae? How about the schizophrenia-inducing parasite that lives in your cat's litter box, literally altering human brain chemistry to its own inscrutable ends? If not, you have a choice to make: to immediately read or assiduously avoid Kathleen McAuliffe's This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society. McAuliffe, author of The Atlantic article "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy," surveys a horrorshow universe of microscopic maladies and the strangely specific ways they use us, even influencing of our civilizations and beliefs. This book is highly original, thought-provoking, and compellingly cringe-inducing;I suggest you read it. But if you need a sampling of the weirdness lurking between its pages before you decide, browse the images below.
This Is Your Brain on Parasites is a top 10 selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month for June 2016.
ANIMALS THAT MAY BE ACTING WEIRDLY BECAUSE OF PARASITES
Zombie ants: You’ll find as many as 22 of their grisly corpses per square yard in rainforests around the world. Each ant is frozen like a statue, woven onto a leaf by a fungus. Its spores created these killing fields. As soon as one latches on to an ant, it sends out shoots that quickly invade its body and begin pumping out chemicals that goad the insect to climb a sapling at exactly solar noon, travel to the northwestern side of the plant and lock onto a leaf. Then, like a monster in a science fiction film, the fungus springs from its head, unfurling a long stalk with a fruiting body at its tip. When it bursts, it will rain spores down on ants below, creating new armies of zombies.
Confused crustaceans: When infected with a tapeworm, brine shrimp suddenly get the urge to socialize. The parasite has tricked them into thinking it’s time to mate. The tapeworm also turns its normally translucent host bright pink so when the infected shrimp swarm together, they form large red clouds of seafood appealing to flamingoes—the parasite’s next host.
Robo-crabs: Flip over a crab, if you see a yellow, bladder-shaped organ you are staring at a pouch filled with the young of a parasitic barnacle (suspend any preconceived notions you have about barnacles! These guys have shed their shells and have infiltrated the soft tissue of the crab like a metastatic cancer.). The robo-crab foregoes reproduction, existing solely to nourish the barnacle and its brood of young. In other words, the crab is not a crab at all, but rather a barnacle masquerading as one.
Indecisive Roaches: A female wasp has figured out how to rob a roach of its free will. Her technique: neurosurgery. First the wasp stings the roach, injecting an agent that briefly paralyzes it. Then she inserts her stinger again—this time into the creature’s brain—and probes around until she finds a neural target involved in decision-making that’s half the size of a pinhead. Once located, she injects a venom to destroy it, so the roach can’t make up its mind what to do. When the wasp tugs on one of its antennae, off it trots like a dog on a leash to her burrow where it will serve as nourishment for her offspring.
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