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

This is a natural thing.

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:


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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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