These tiny creatures are some of the scariest living things on Earth.

Zombies ... what if I told you that they're everywhere?

Hold on to your brains. Here's the story:

You know about your run-of-the-mill parasite — where one insect lays an egg inside another, and when the larvae hatches, it consumes its host from the inside out until it's ready to emerge and take over the world?


It seems that many parasites take things a step further:

These kinds of parasites bend their victims' wills to serve a new master.

The horsehair worm grows up inside a cricket and then drives it to commit suicide by drowning.

The horsehair worm needs water in order to reproduce. When it's old enough to mate, the parasite releases proteins that cause the crickets to become suicidal in a very specific way: by drowning. A host cricket finds water and flings itself in. While it drowns, the horsehair worm wriggles its way out, free to hit the singles scene.

And this isn't an isolated thing either. One scientist in Japan found that in one stream, deviant suicidal crickets made up 60% of the diet of local trout!

Then there's this "head-banging zombie caterpillar" brainwashed by wasps.

After being stung by a parasitic wasp, this caterpillar becomes a body guard: Here it is beating off a curious weevil to protect the cocoons of the very insect that is devouring it from inside. So, in a way, the caterpillar and cricket are no longer their original selves.

It's like the cricket and the caterpillar have become extensions of the minds of their parasitic conquerors...

Parasites even control group behavior. Tapeworm-infected sea monkeys turn bright red and swim together in clumps.

Why? So they can be more easily spotted and eaten by flamingos, which — you guessed it — is exactly where those tapeworms like to breed.

You want to take solace that this is just a thing of the creepy insect world, right?

A parasite called "toxo" has crossed the arthopod-mammal barrier without a problem.

"Toxo" is a one-celled parasite that lives in rats but needs to be inside cats to reproduce. And yes, this is why people are advised to avoid changing litter boxes while they're pregnant.

See, in rats, this toxo manipulates their brains in a way that makes them think it's a smart idea to run toward the smell of cat pee instead of away from it, making the rats easier for cats to hunt.

But if a pregnant person encounters a toxo while cleaning out the litter box of an infected cat, it can cause serious birth defects to the fetus.

It's just not natural!

Except — it is.

It turns out that 1 in 3 of us humans actually have this toxo in our own brains.

Scientists are very divided over whether the parasite is actually manipulating human behavior. Some think they see it in personality tests, car accidents, and schizophrenia.

Bottom line, manipulation in nature is far more common than we've thought. The walking living dead are out there, and there are a lot of them.

Parasite mind control is just one more example of how the natural world is endlessly fascinating.

We should never think we got it all figured out! Unless we're this guy, who sure seems to know a lot about it:


On February 19, 2020, a group of outdoor adventurists took a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During the trip, they had no cell service and no contact with the outside world. When they ended they ended their journey on March 14, the man who pulled them ashore asked if they had been in touch with anyone else. When the rafters said no, the man sighed, then launched into an explanation of how the globe had been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and everything had come to a screeching halt.

The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

The rafters' story was shared in the New York Times last spring, but they're not the only ones to have had such an experience.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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