Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue fifty of Manufacturing Serendipity, where ordinarily you’d find a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.
Sadly, thanks to my own woefully poor planning, this is edition is a mini-missive. Normal service will resume in two weeks, by which time, I’m hoping that I will have sufficiently sorted my life out. To tide you over until then here’s a thing about a parasite that turns snails into disco zombies which I thought you might like:
The Parasitic Worm That Turns Snails Into Disco Zombies
This fortnight I came across this article, which proves once again (as if there were ever any doubt), that nature is far stranger than fiction:
“[Meet] Leucochloridium, a parasitic worm that invades a snail’s eyestalks, where it pulsates to imitate a caterpillar. The worm then mind-controls its host out into the open for hungry birds to pluck its eyes out. In the bird’s guts the worm breeds, releasing its eggs in the bird’s feces, which are happily eaten up by another snail to complete the whole bizarre life cycle.”
Here’s a video of a snail that’s been invaded by Leucochloridium.
“…while science has known about Leucochloridium for more than a century, it was only in 2013 that biologist Tomasz Wesołowski of Poland’s Wrocław University confirmed the worm is indeed capable of manipulating its snail hosts. (Specifically, amber snails—like many other mind-controlling parasites, it’s highly species-specific, that is, it’s unable to manipulate the behavior of more than one species.)”
Here’s how it goes down: Cyril the snail is moseying along, minding his own business. He comes across some bird poop, thinks “YUM” (each to their own, right?) and eats it. Poor Cyril doesn’t realise that inside the delicious bird poop there’s a Leucochloridium egg which he’s now also ingested:
“Inside the snail, Wesołowski says, the whole grand show begins as the ingested egg develops into what is known as a sporocyst, “which looks like a bunch of whitish tissue, seated mostly in the liver of the snail. And then it grows like a tumor, more or less.” It doesn’t have a mouth, so like many parasitic worms, such as the horsehair worm that infects and mind-controls crickets, it simply sits around soaking up the snail’s hard-earned nutrients through its skin. Like a clubber downing vodka Red Bulls, it’s gonna need energy if it’s gonna dance.”
Leucochloridium wastes no time in castrating poor Cyril, and then setting about making his eye stalks go Saturday Night Fever:
“As if it weren’t enough of a meany-head, Leucochloridium also castrates its host. This makes good evolutionary sense: Energy normally spent producing eggs and sperm (snails are hermaphrodites) goes toward sustaining the worm. So, pumped full of the requisite nutrition, the sporocyst sends out branches that tunnel through the snail’s body and into its eyestalks, also known as tentacles, where it forms a brood sac full of larvae. It’s these larvae that eventually go all disco.”
What’s the deal with the disco eyes?
“a massive strobing eye of larvae looks mighty delicious to passerine birds.”
Now birds aren’t that into eating snails, but they’re big into eating caterpillars. Leucochloridium does this disco eye thing in order to make poor Cyril’s eyes look like caterpillars to birds – effectively the parasite is hoping passing birds see Cyril’s eyes and think “YUM” caterpillar, and want to eat them.
Here’s where things get super-weird. Cyril is nocturnal by nature, but the birds that are into eating caterpillars most certainly are not.
Leucochloridium solves this issue with mind control:
“…it begins manipulating the behavior of its host, forcing it out into the many dangers of the light of day, where predators swarm and the sun rapidly desiccates. It’s probably using chemicals, but how it’s able to pull off this incredible feat remains a mystery…”
And we’re not done with the weirdness yet. Leucochloridium must somehow sense the difference between night and day; but no one can figure out how they’re able to sense that:
“What is most amazing is that these brood sacs are pulsating only in daylight,” said Wesołowski. “They have no photosensitive anything—no trace of, say, any nervous system, no sense organs. Nothing. Still they recognize when it’s worth pulsating and when it’s not worth pulsating. So that’s very, very unusual. Nobody knows how it’s achieved.”
But back to the action. Poor old Cyril’s out in the daytime, his eyes are discoing all over the place, and eventually a bird thinks “YUM CATERPILLAR” and plucks out his eyes.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that marks the end for Cyril, but actually it doesn’t:
“Mercifully, or perhaps horrifically, the snail will not only survive, but will regenerate the lost tentacles and eyespots and regain the ability to reproduce.”
This actually works out pretty great for Leucochloridium – it’s successfully got it’s worms growing and reproducing in another bird’s gut. That bird’s gonna poop out some eggs which might just be eaten by another snail AND our old mate Cyril has the chance to reproduce, which in turn means more bird poop eating potential snail hosts for Leucochloridium in the future.
Ah the circle of life: poopy, disco-eyed, and frequently awful.
What I’ve been up to…
Areej and I wrapped up our first Speaker Pitch Training course for Women in Tech SEO. It was an absolute joy to run, and I cannot wait to see these amazing women take to the stage.
I spent an absolutely glorious weekend at the Marlborough Lit Fest with my wonderful friend Diana. We saw five amazing talks: Ali Smith spoke about her latest novel, Companion Piece, and oh my God I love her – if you ever get a chance to hear her speak, I’d strongly encourage you to go); Kamila Shamsie spoke about her latest novel Best of Friends (which I’m reading right now); Ruth Martin and Shaun Whiteside each translated the same Grimms’ Fairytale, then compared notes (so fascinating); authors Ayanna Lloyd Banwo and Bobby Palmer compared notes on how their respective debut novels took shape; and Sam Knight shared the story of how his non-fiction book, The Premonitions Bureau came into being. In other news, I managed to get trapped in a toilet and had to be rescued by a man toting a toolbox – WHY DO THESE THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME?! Happily, the aforementioned unfortunate, deeply embarrassing incident did not mar the weekend, and apparently Diana is still happy to be my friend.
Get a £50 discount on MKGO tickets
Join me and a bunch of wonderful humans at MKGO on 21st October. Get £50 off the ticket price with the code Word50, but be quick, because it’s a limited offer – that code is good for five tickets only, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Tickets are now on sale for WTSFest 2023
On 3rd March 2023, I’ll be back emceeing this amazing event and I cannot wait. Bag yourself an early bird ticket here.
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