Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Top 10 Real Life Zombies

For at least a decade now, zombies have been on the forefront of everything. Books? The Zombie Survival guide. Movies? Far too many to list, and we can’t forget the hunting of Nazi Zombies in the Call of Duty franchise or infected in Left 4 Dead. Even the United State’s own CDC at one point put out a poster saying what to do in case of a zombie apocalypse. Admittedly, this was just to promote normal public health practices, as such a thing could never happen. Or could it? Here, we look at 10 examples of real life zombies.

10. Fish Flukes

Flukes When people think zombies, it’s often they think of land dwelling creatures, or an occasional zombie bird (why hasn’t there been a movie about that yet?) but not zombie fish. Maybe it’s because unlike most zombies, victims of Fish Flukes tend to want to be eaten, and not eat unsuspecting victims themselves. The flukes do this by taking over the fish (with most species being susceptible) and making sure they swim up near the surface while also changing coloration to be more vibrant and attractive to seagulls or any other predatory bird. After consumption, the worms lay eggs inside the birds who then drop them off, so to speak, in other bodies of water so the cycle can continue.

9. Strepsipterans a.k.a. Twisted Wing Parasites

StrepsipteransWhat’s worse than a zombie? A zombie that is made by tiny bugs living inside other creatures. Such is the species Strepsipterans, whose mating cycle would have made H.P. Lovecraft wet himself and vacuum seal his doors shut. A species about the size of a gnat, the male flies look just about like any other, but the females are something wholly different. Limbless, eyeless parasite that often lives inside other insects with a head poking out of the victim to breathe. During mating season, they will control their victims to land and wait patiently while they secrete pheromones to attract males (with several females per body being possible), and will disperse the new flies onto flowers later for other bugs to be infected with. Makes Boomers from Left 4 Dead seem downright pleasant.

8. Nematomorpha

nematomorpha If you’re a fan of B horror movies, you might recognize this critter as one that infected some teens in L.A. before getting blown to bits by a military airstrike. In reality though, the Nematomorpha, also called the Gordian worm isn’t a concern for us yet. They primarily live within insects like crickets and grasshoppers. These little worms are quite vile in their own right though, commanding their prey to jump into water and drown themselves so the worm can escape, mate, and repeat the process.

7. Sacculina


Expounding on the film theme for a bit, but does anyone remember the early Pirates of the Carribean movies, especially the first sequel where crew mates would get sucked into being part of the ship by some nasty barnacles? Well, turns out that more or less happens in real life to some very unlucky crabs. Sacculinas start out life as shrimp like creatures, and the females do some wicked transformation. Shedding over 90% of their bodies, they become naught more than a clump of cells that when in contact with a crab begin to grow roots into it, as well as a hole for the male to come in and mate with the female. What’s really wild is not only does the barnacle breed within the crab, but then forces nurturing of the offspring upon the victim, tricking it into thinking its own of their own. What if the crab is a male, you may ask? Well, no problem for Sacculina, it forces the male to transform into a female so that it can do the same thing.

6. Ribeiroia

Ribeiroia This one may not exactly count as a true zombie per se, but since I don’t foresee a “top 10 mutants straight out of the Fallout Universe” dropping anytime soon, this would be about the perfect spot to put it. A variant of the tapeworm that primarily infects frogs, this parasite doesn’t exactly mess with the mind of the frog or give it an insatiable urge for brains (unless they are bug brains, that is). However, what it does do is get into frogs during a tadpole stage and make them look horribly mutated, with spare limbs being exceedingly common. The reason for this should be predictable to anyone who has read the list thus far; to inhibit the frogs ability to escape predators, mostly birds, who can then drop the parasites elsewhere.

5. Pseudacteon

Pseudacteon It’s summer and you may have some fruit that’s unfortunately attracted a few flies due to the heat. Those are just fruit flies, right? Well, hopefully they are and not Pseudacteon, who are in many ways the ideal zombie maker. Often infecting ants, the Peudacteon will bite an ant and inject some eggs into it. Pretty bad already, we’ve seen this show before on the list. The parasitic baby then moves up the ant, has a snack of most the brain and takes over the rest. Now that’s an escalation. Finally, the larvae moves the now technically dead ant around into an ideal position, and keeps until the ants head unceremoniously drops off and makes itself a nice cocoon until maturation, where they breed and the cycle begins again.

4. Leucochloridium


No doubt many of you in school heard of the legend of Prometheus. A Greek titan who crossed Zeus, and brought fire to humanity only to be punished by being latched to rocks and have his liver eaten out before it regrows the following night to have the cycle repeated. Leucochloridium does this to an extent to its victims who are primarily snails. Infecting snails and then causing them to go out in the open normally would not be effective as a means of survival for any parasite as most birds are not a fan of French cuisine. However, in what looks to be the world’s most nasty case of Pink Eye, the parasite changes the eye stalks of snails to look like caterpillars, filling them with eggs and then having them eaten off only for the snail to regrow them. This process repeats until the snail eventually dies.

3. Glyptapanteles

Glyptapanteles Call it a hunch, but I believe there’s a bit of crossover between people who like this list and people who play Warhammer 40k. If I’m right, more than a few people after reading this will think that the above-named wasp is no less than good old Papa Nurgle himself. This wasp primarily infects catepillars, unlucky as they are, and does so by first stinging, then injecting eggs into the caterpillar. Now this happens all the time, you might think, and you’d be right. Likewise, the larvae eat their way out of the victim. No surprise there. But, if that was all it wouldn’t even be on this list, let alone number 3 on the real life zombie chart. Glyptapanteles adds an unusual extra step in that it keeps the victim, half eaten, still alive. It also manipulates the creature into viciously defending the larvae killing it, wrapping them in silk and threatening anything down to a passing leaf if it gets too close, until the wasps can mature. The victim then dies days later as a result of stress and starvation.

2. Cordyceps

Cordyceps I will be the first to admit, I am not a fan of spiders, in fact if you’d like to see a large bearded man yelp like a frightened chihuahua, approach me with anything with 8 legs. That being said, this family of molds which prey primarily on spiders make me feel almost bad for them. What Cordyceps does must have inspired the game The Last of Us just a bit, as the mold takes control of the nervous system of spiders and other bugs, and while starting to sprout mushrooms and other spore forming structures across it, makes it find a place with plenty of wind. Then, it feeds off the bug and allows the spores to travel again. This release of spore is even timed directly to be the most effective to their prey of choice to further secure propagation.

1. Hyoscine/ Scopolamine /Burundanga

Burundanga Of all the scenes of any zombie movie where people are turned mindless, it’s often not the cause of what is considered by the World Health Organization to be an essential medicine. Sure, bath salts came close on the whole “users eating faces” front, but Hyoscine can be much more effective if in the wrong hands. The only potential “zombie maker” to humans on this list, it’s previously been used to treat nausea, deal with childbirth pains, and even reduce motion sickness in small doses. However in higher doses it’s been lauded from criminal circles to at one point the CIA as a truth serum. Especially in Colombia, it is often reported that this drug can effectively prevent the formation of memories in a person, cause them to be drowsy, and be wholly open to suggestion and display no real will of their own. This is primarily done by the inhibition of Acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter in the brain for such functions and the peripheral nervous system for motor movement) which has been shown to, if blocked, cause no memories to form for quite a while. While it does not have the brain desiring side effect, if given the suggestion of killing someone, are they really going to argue what amount to semantics at that point? It’s also used as a date rape drug and a means of theft in South American countries, and for the effectiveness in these matters makes it the number one real life zombie maker.

Did we miss any terrifying substances or creatures that can turn others into zombies? Do you have a suggestion for a replacement of one on our list? Then please feel free to mention them in the comments below.

Cody Carmichael
Cody Carmichael
University graduate in Psychology, and health worker. On my off time I'm usually tinkering with tech or traveling to the ends of the globe.


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