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Body-Snatching Barnacles and Zombie Crabs

Article #16 • Written by Alan Bellows

There is no small number of unsettling parasites crawling, flying, and swimming about the Earth, the lucky ones hitching rides on hapless host organisms. And while many parasites are harmless, or even beneficial in their way, others can wreak havoc with their hosts' existence. The worst of these offenders can actually force their host to do their will.

A tiny barnacle called Sacculina is one such parasite. Upon finding a host crab, a female Sacculina will crawl over the crab's surface until she finds a chink in the armor: a joint. She then ejects her protective shell, reducing herself to a gelatinous blob, and invades.

Inside the host, the parasite grows long, root-like tendrils throughout the crab's body, eventually emerging as a bump on the its underside. During this process she renders the crab infertile, and creates a small opening in the crab's back that will allow a male Sacculina to make residence there. Soon the crab is filled with millions of Sacculina eggs and larvae, and like a zombie, the crab cares for these eggs and larvae as though they were its own, losing all interest in mating. When a male crab is infected, the parasite alters its physiology and behavior to be female, to better care for the Sacculina's young.

The parasite basically rewires the crab for its own ends, and the crab becomes a helpless vehicle, expending its energy caring for the young organisms that will move on to inflict themselves upon other crabs.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 27 September 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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15 Comments
Haywood Jablome
Posted 12 April 2006 at 12:48 pm

Now this is just messed up right here. That's like something from another planet. Just think of one of these things big enough to enter a human body, make a hole in the back for a male to come in. The mental picture im getting of this is very disturbing. If some of these parasites were our size, us humans would be doomed. Cmon mind and body control?!?!?!?!? thats like super powers or something.


iRsobuCk
Posted 28 May 2006 at 11:48 am

Holy crap.


Lennes
Posted 30 August 2006 at 02:15 pm

HELLO. ARE THERE ANY MALE SACCULINA HERE? NO REASON. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT ME I AM FEELING NUMBER ONE. BTW, I VERY MUCH ENJOY BEHAVING LIKE A FEMALE AND CARING FOR EGGS AND LARVAE.


hottyson
Posted 14 December 2006 at 02:53 pm

"The parasite basically rewires the crab for its own ends, and the crab becomes a helpless vehicle, expending its energy caring for the young organisms that will move on to inflict themselves upon other crabs."

I once knew a girl like that!


ivytheplant
Posted 24 February 2007 at 01:11 am

Just when I'm comfortable with eating crustaceans again, zombie barnacles with gelatinous goo has to make me rethink things.


kgy121
Posted 25 February 2007 at 08:32 pm

I've been wondering, do the barnacles kill the crab, or do they recyle?


gabba
Posted 30 May 2007 at 03:32 am

iRsobuCk said: "Holy crap."

haha good one


Merciless
Posted 04 June 2007 at 02:48 pm

Damn! That's close to marriage. Interesting!


DanThinksDances&femaleGspot
Posted 23 July 2008 at 07:28 pm

Enter your reply text here. OK

New and interesting. Smart people take it easy. Now you are worried because you understand something funky! It's all part of living. Organisms living in us allow us to take a shit amoung other crap/ eat, see, smell.


ableiman
Posted 30 October 2008 at 01:51 pm

I would like to echo the comments of Robosuck or some such and add, holy crapface.


ValiantDefender
Posted 02 February 2009 at 04:15 pm

Thats just disturbing


comamoto
Posted 05 February 2009 at 07:51 am

This is one of the first articles I read on DI and it still remains one of my favorites!

Parasites fascinate me! Maybe it says something about my personality, who knows...

Anyhoo, BRAVO on this article and on all the related ones!!! (esp. "Zombie Spiders," "Tonuge Snatchers" and "Toothpick Fish")


3hirty6ix
Posted 16 January 2010 at 01:22 pm

Is That Real


Loz Ramsey
Posted 01 March 2010 at 06:26 am

That is so wrong, it's coming out the other side of wrongness and entering the fertile territory of the truly disturbing. Reminds of something I read in a Lyall Watson book (although I will freely admit I may have dreamt it) about one stage in the life cycle of a particular type of liver fluke. In order to get into a sheep to enter the next phase, it gets into an ant. It attatches itself to the base of whatever-passes-for-the-brain, and gets the ant to climb to the top of a blabe of grass, bite onto the end, and... wait for a sheep.
The natural world never ceases to amaze/scare the crap out of me.


conrad
Posted 21 April 2010 at 03:22 pm

dude that shouldnt work... i love this website though!


END OF COMMENTS
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