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These Parasitic Bugs Can Control Their Host's Brain From the Inside

By Jesus Diaz on at

The November's issue of National Geographic has a fascinating article titled Mindsuckers, the tale of tiny beasts that get into their victims bodies to eat them from inside and control their bodies, turning them into remote controlled zombies. And there are more horror ahead, masterfully photographed by Anand Varma.

Above you can see a a ladybug with a pod containing its mind-controlling master.

Ladybirds are said to bring good luck—but one infected by the wasp species Dinocampus coccinellae is decidedly unfortunate. When a female wasp stings a ladybird, it leaves behind a single egg. After the egg hatches, the larva begins to eat its host from the inside out. When ready, the parasite emerges and spins a cocoon between the ladybird's legs. Though its body is now free of the tormentor, the bug remains enslaved, standing over the cocoon and protecting it from potential predators. Some lucky ladybirds actually survive this eerie ordeal.

These parasite bugs can control their hosts' brains from inside

PARASITOID WASP Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga

SPIDER Leucauge argyra

The spider Leucauge argyra suffers a series of humiliations at the hands of the parasitic wasp Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga before it is put out of its misery. Paralysed by the wasp's sting, the spider stands helpless as its tormentor deposits an egg on its abdomen. Once the egg hatches, the larva holds tight to the spider like some malignant piggybacker, feeding on its internal fluids for a week. When ready to pupate, the larva coerces the spider into setting out on one last, misguided building project. Ripping down its own carefully constructed web, the spider spins a novel one consisting of just a few thick crossing strands. The larva rewards the spider for its efforts by sucking it dry. Then it spins its cocoon at the intersection of the two strands, where it can dangle safely out of reach of predators.

These parasite bugs can control their hosts' brains from inside

PARASITIC FLATWORM Ribeiroia ondatrae

AMERICAN BULLFROG Lithobates catesbeianus

After the flatworm Ribeiroia ondatrae reproduces asexually inside a snail, its larvae find a bullfrog tadpole and burrow their way through its skin, forming cysts around the frog's developing limbs. With legs added, subtracted, or compromised, the ungainly victim is easy prey for frog-eating birds like herons. Inside the heron, the parasite reproduces sexually. Its eggs re-enter the water when the bird defecates, infecting new snails to start another round.

These parasite bugs can control their hosts' brains from inside

HORSEHAIR WORM Paragordius varius

HOUSE CRICKET Acheta domesticus

The house cricket loses its will—and its life—to the horsehair worm. Larvae of the parasite infiltrate the cricket when it scavenges dead insects, then grow inside it. The cricket is terrestrial, but the adult stage of the worm's life cycle is aquatic. So when the mature worm is ready to emerge, it alters the brain of its host, driving the cricket to abandon the safety of land and take a suicidal leap into the nearest body of water. As the cricket drowns, an adult worm emerges, sometimes a foot in length.

These parasite bugs can control their hosts' brains from inside

PARASITIC BARNACLE Heterosaccus californicus

SHEEP CRAB Loxorhynchus grandis

Welcome to a freakish world where parasites compel their hosts to do their bidding. A male sheep crab infected by a parasitic barnacle is literally feminised. It stops developing fighting claws, and its abdomen widens, providing a "womb" for the barnacle to fill with its brood pouch. Nurtured by the crab, the eggs hatch. Thousands of baby barnacles disperse to infect anew.

Anand Varma is a freelance natural history photographer. His first story has published in the November 2014 issue of National Geographic.

You can follow him on his site, Facebook,and Instagram.