In the Last of Us, the most gruesome live-action adaptation of a video game about people being turned into fungus since 1993’s Super Mario Bros, a mutated species of Cordyceps destroys society by converting humans into mindless, sporulating mushroom people.
Cordyceps, a fungus that most commonly parasitizes ants, is real. It really does hijack its host’s nervous system, alter its behavior, and turn it into a spore-producing zombie. The outcome is strangely beautiful.
Though the current darling of gritty, realistic, science-based zombie fiction, Cordyceps is such a lightweight in the world of brain-breaking parasites that tech bros brew it into their adaptogenic coffee.
If you want to meet a truly unsettling zombie-making parasite, allow me to introduce you to Sacculina.
Sacculina is a genus of barnacle that parasitizes crabs. While most parasitic barnacles are perfectly happy growing on the carapace of a crab, Sacculina takes this partnership to the extreme.
Female Sacculina larvae drift through the ocean, until they encounter a crab. The larva then settles on the crab and searches for a joint in the crab’s carapace. Once it finds a gap in the arthropod’s armor, it transforms into a kentrogon, a specialized phase of the barnacle life cycle that possess a stylet–an organic syringe-like structure–which allows Sacculina to inject itself into the crab, and not much else. At this point, the hard shell attached to the crab’s carapace falls off and the barnacle continues to grown within its host.
The fight for our Marine National Monuments isn’t over. We now know of the contents of Zincke’s monument review memo, and it is not good. The DOI wants to see commercial fishing return to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. Longline fishing in these regions has historically been conducted by foreign fishing fleets which have been documented using slave labor. Many ecologists believe that maintaining these protected zones serve as a refuge that boost populations of many important commercial fish and improve the overall health of the fishery. Any change to monuments created under the Antiquities Act must be approved by congress. You’ve got a lot of reason to call you representatives this week, so why not add “I opposed the reintroduction of ecologically and economically destructive commercial fishing to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.” to your script?
The fight for our Marine National Monuments isn’t over. We finally know *some* of the contents of Zincke’s monument review memo, and it’s not great. The DOI wants to see commercial fishing return to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments. Longline fishing in these regions has historically been conducted by foreign fishing fleets which have been documented using slave labor. Many ecologists believe that maintaining these protected zones serve as a refuge that boost populations of many important commercial fish and improve the overall health of the fishery.
Here’s the good news: Any change to monuments created under the Antiquities Act must be approved by congress. You’ve got a lot of reason to call you representatives this week, so why not add “I opposed the reintroduction of ecologically and economically destructive commercial fishing to the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.” to your script?
Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)
Hero Shark, the shark who shows up to every flood, ostensibly to save us all from our own hubris, has a long a fascinating history. “Shark in flooded street” wasn’t even the first time that photo was used for fake news.
Earlier this week, Fox News commentator and all-around terrific guy* Erick Erickson, while discussing a recent Pew Study that revealed that women were the sole breadwinners in 40% of US households that contain children, had this to say:
“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology—when you look at the natural world—the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.”
I’m not sure where Erickson got his science education from, but it’s pretty clear he should have spent a little more time shopping around on the free market, because he sure is wrong. How wrong? I managed to assemble this list of 10 marine species with dwarf, parasitic, or otherwise reduced males (including an entire female-only class) while waiting for my toast**. So have a seat and let me show you how much weirder and more wonderful the world is than Erickson’s Disney-esque misinterpretation of biology.
The deep-sea Anglerfish is among the most common examples of parasitic males in the marine world. Anglerfish comprise a variety of taxa in the order Lophiiformes. Almost all (females) possess a specialized appendage that acts as a lure to attract unwary prey. Life in the deep sea is rough–even though it is the largest and most diverse ecosystem on Earth, biomass is fairly low–so finding a mate is a struggle for these slow swimming fishes. The solution: carry your partner with you.
Male anglerfish are tiny, often less than 5% the size of the female, but they possess powerful olfactory receptors, allowing them to seek out females. Once a mate is located, the male anglerfish latches on to her abdomen, fuses his circulatory system with hers, and is then slowly digested until there’s nothing left but a sac of gonads surrounded by basic life-supporting tissues. Female anglerfish are not monogamous, either. At any given time she could be covered by a half-dozen parasitic males. Kinky.
#SciFund, a month long initiative to raise funds for a variety of scientific research projects, is once again upon us. Project leaders post a project description and an appeal for funds, and members of the public are invited to make small donations to projects that they deem worthy. Donations come with rewards such as access to project logs, images from fieldwork, your name in the acknowledgements of publications, among other possibilities. Many of these projects are marine or conservation themed. Once again, we’re highlighting some of our favorite marine science proposals. Please take a look at these projects and, should you so desire, send some financial support their way. If you do make a donation, let them know how you found out about their project and leave a comment (anonymous if you’d like) on this post letting us know.
If you were a crab in the ocean, your biggest fear would likely be the parasite I study. This parasite can invade crabs bodies and basically take over, using the crab as a baby parasite-producing machine. Female crabs are particularly suited for this as their bodies are already set up with a special space to keep babies (normally for crab eggs).
BUT, that doesn’t mean that male crabs are safe. If the parasite happens to get into a male crab it just makes it into a female! Literally changing the shape of the crab’s body so that the male can now hold parasite babies. Being infected by these parasites leads to complete castration. Not only are the crabs producing parasite babies, they can no longer produce their own offspring. As such, my lab-mates and I have dubbed it “the Neuterator” (the parasites scientific name is Loxothylacus panopeus).
Now, imagine if this parasite hasn’t always been around? Imagine, say, if this was an invasive parasite that just showed up in the water one day? In the oyster reefs in Georiga that is exactly what happened.The Neuterator showed up and started infecting mud crabs (their scientific name is Eurypanopeus depressus) around 2004. Right now, I find around 40% of these mud crabs infected in the reefs around Savannah.