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Are you familiar with zombie spiders?
These arachnids are not your typical garden-variety spiders, as they are known to be infected with a parasitic fungus that turns them into zombies.
Zombie spiders are a fascinating yet creepy phenomenon that has captured the attention of scientists, nature enthusiasts, and horror fans alike.
In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of zombie spiders, from how they are created to the implications of their existence.
What Are Zombie Spiders?
This parasitic organism takes control of the spider’s body, causing it to behave in unusual and erratic ways.
The infected spider becomes a zombie, losing control of its movements and becoming a host for the parasite’s life cycle.
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The Creation of Zombie Spiders: Understanding the Process
The transformation of ordinary spiders into zombie-like creatures is a fascinating and spine-chilling process.
This eerie phenomenon happens when a spider falls victim to either a parasitic fungus or a specific species of wasp.
Let’s explore the two main culprits behind the creation of zombie spiders.
The Life Cycle of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis Fungus
The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is a master manipulator that targets certain species of ants, but it can also infect spiders.
The fungus infects the spider through spores that enter the spider’s body.
Once infected, the fungus takes control of the spider’s behavior, causing it to climb to a high point and remain there until it dies.
The fungus then grows a stalk out of the spider’s body, which releases spores into the air to infect other spiders.
The spores are spread by the wind and can infect other spiders in the area.
The fungus has been observed to be highly specific to certain species of spiders, and it can even target specific body parts to ensure the best possible outcome for its reproductive success.
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What Parasitic Wasps Zombify Spiders?
Apart from fungi, some parasitic wasps also create zombie spiders.
One such wasp is the Zatypota parasitoid wasp.
When a female Zatypota parasitoid wasp seeks a suitable host for her offspring, she sets her sights on a spider.
The wasp injects her eggs into the spider’s abdomen, and once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae begin their parasitic takeover.
This manipulation is critical for the wasp’s survival, as it provides a haven for the larvae to grow and eventually emerge as adult wasps.
As the wasp larvae develop, they release venom that affects the spider’s nervous system.
The venom causes the spider to spin a web that protects the wasp’s cocoon from predators and environmental factors.
The wasp larvae feed on the spider’s blood and organs, eventually resulting in the spider’s death.
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How to Identify a Zombie Spider
Identifying a zombie spider may not be as straightforward as spotting other arachnids, but there are some key indicators to watch for.
Here are a few characteristics that can help identify a zombie spider.
Unusual Web Appearance
- One of the first signs of a zombie spider is the appearance of its web.
- Infected spiders often create irregular and non-functional webs that deviate from their usual intricate designs.
- If you come across a spider’s web that looks oddly misshapen or chaotic, it could be a telltale sign of a zombie spider’s presence.
- Observe the spider’s behavior closely.
- Zombie spiders display odd and unnatural actions, such as moving in a slow and disjointed manner.
- They may even venture into well-lit areas where spiders typically avoid, making them more vulnerable to predators.
Unusual Pupation Site
- Infected spiders are often coerced into creating specific pupation sites for the parasitic wasp larvae.
- These sites serve as protective shelters, allowing the wasp larvae to complete their metamorphosis safely.
- If you encounter a spider’s web that seems to be serving an unusual purpose or exhibits signs of being carefully constructed, it could be a clue pointing to the presence of a parasitic wasp and a zombie spider.
- Zombie spiders sometimes display a peculiar behavior of sitting motionless in the presence of potential threats.
- This behavior benefits the parasitic wasp larvae, giving them ample time to mature and complete their development.
- If you spot a spider that seems to be unusually still, seemingly unperturbed by its surroundings, it might be one under the influence of a parasitic wasp.
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Where Are Zombie Spiders Found?
Zombie spiders are found in various parts of the world, but they are most commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions.
The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus, which creates zombie ants and spiders, has been reported in Asia, Africa, and South America.
The fungus typically thrives in humid and moist environments, such as rainforests.
Parasitic wasps that create zombie spiders are also found in various regions, including North America, Europe, and Asia.
The Zatypota parasitoid wasp, for example, is found in North America and Europe, while other species of parasitic wasps are found in Asia.
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What Do Zombie Spiders Eat?
Zombie spiders do not eat anything once they have been infected by a parasitic fungus or wasp larva.
Instead, the spider becomes a host for the parasite’s life cycle, which ultimately results in the spider’s death.
The parasitic organism feeds on the spider’s bodily fluids and tissues, eventually taking over its nervous system and causing it to behave in unusual ways that benefit the parasite’s survival and reproduction.
Before being infected, however, spiders are carnivorous predators that typically feed on insects, other spiders, and small animals.
They use their venom to immobilize their prey and their fangs to inject digestive enzymes that break down the prey’s tissues, which the spider then sucks up as food.
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Are Zombie Spiders Dangerous?
Zombie spiders are not dangerous to humans because they are unable to move or bite once they have been infected by a parasitic fungus or wasp larva.
The infected spider becomes a host for the parasite’s life cycle and eventually dies, unable to move or defend itself.
Zombie spiders cannot infect humans, so there is no need to worry if you come across one.
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Can Zombie Spiders be Cured?
No, zombie spiders cannot be cured.
Once a spider falls victim to the influence of parasitic wasps or fungi, there is no reversing of the process.
The manipulation of the spider’s behavior is irreversible, leading to its tragic fate as a puppet to the parasitic puppeteer.
If you encounter a zombie spider, it’s best to leave it as it is because there’s no way to save it.
In fact, attempting to interfere with the spider’s behavior could disrupt the parasite’s reproductive cycle and potentially harm other animals in the ecosystem.
Scientists are continuing to study the behavior and characteristics of zombie spiders and their parasites in order to better understand how they operate and how they can be controlled.
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Zombie spiders are fascinating examples of how parasites can manipulate the behavior of their hosts, ultimately leading to their demise.
While the concept may seem like something out of a horror story, there’s no chance of turning into a zombie if you are bitten by a zombie spider!
If you do encounter a zombie spider, it’s best to leave it alone and let nature take its course.
By studying these creatures, we can gain a greater appreciation for the complexity of the natural world and the ways in which different organisms have evolved to survive and thrive over time.
Are zombie spiders real?
Yes, zombie spiders are real. They are spiders that have been infected by a parasitic fungus or wasp, leading to manipulated behavior.
What is the zombie parasite in spiders?
The zombie parasite in spiders can be a parasitic fungus or a specific species of wasp. They take control of the spider’s behavior.
What is the fungus in zombie spiders?
The fungus in zombie spiders is known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, cordyceps, or zombie-ant fungus.
What is the white fungus on cellar spiders?
The white fungus on cellar spiders is an entomopathogenic fungus.
What parasitic wasps zombify spiders?
Zatypota parasitoid wasp is one of the parasitic wasps that can turn spiders into zombies.
How do zombie spiders benefit the parasitic wasps?
Zombie spiders serve as incubators for the wasp’s eggs, providing a safe and nourishing environment for the larvae to grow.
Do all spiders fall victim to parasitic wasps?
No, not all spiders fall victim to parasitic wasps. Different wasps target specific spider species.
Do zombie spiders feel pain?
As arachnids, spiders do not experience pain in the same way humans do. The mind control exerted by the wasps alters the spider’s behavior but likely doesn’t induce pain.
What happens if a zombie spider bites you?
If a zombie spider bites a human, it would likely be a typical spider bite, not affected by the parasite.
Are zombie spiders poisonous?
Zombie spiders are harmless to humans and do not possess any venom or poison that can harm us.
Resources – (for further reading)
The University of British Columbia – Newly discovered wasp turns social spiders into zombies