Zombie parasites?

Why do walking dead stories so often blame a virus?

This morning it occurred to me that almost every shambling corpse story, (True zombies, of course, are black magic voodoo) the monsters are said to be animated by a virus. It’s pretty common in fiction to see an unknown virus blamed for weird shit, even things that realistically couldn’t be done by a viral infection. I suppose that’s like the way “vaccine” is frequently misused for “cure”, it sounds sciency but most people don’t really know the details of how they work. Well, to be fair I only have a vague understanding myself. But I do get tired of the same thing over and over again.

Why a virus instead of a parasite? There’s precedent in nature for parasites changing an animal’s behavior drastically.

Ladies and gents, I present to you Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus that infects ants and makes them climb plant stalks. Where the ant latches its mandibles into a leaf, dies, and a big fungal stalk grows out of its head.

Think about it, this is way more terrifying than a virus that makes corpses act a little bitey. You could have them grow this thing out of their head that then explodes, releasing spores which infect more people. Holy crap, maybe they don’t grow anything and are drawn to crowds, where their head just explodes suddenly in a shower of gore and spores! And now everyone in the area is potentially infected.

Other behavior modifying parasites are tremetodes, one example of the tremetode life-cycle is shown in this comic. Or toxoplasmosis, which makes cat urine smell good to mice. Both of these cause one of their hosts to get itself eaten by predators, but such a fundamental shift in behavior suggests all sort of other possibilities.

Of course the obvious one is “infected humans crave human flesh!”, but the more I think about this the more possibilities we have. How about an engineered bioweapon that’s generic enough to infect the entire order carnivora, and makes them crave human flesh? Ok, I’ve strayed well away from Roger Corman here, but damn!

Well, that’s all from me for now. If you know of any other behavior changing parasites let me know in the comments!

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on January 3, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think the technical differences are as little as a parasite feeds off the host, may even ley eggs on/in the host but still reproduces of its own vilition(sp). Meanwhile, a virus can’t reproduce without a host cell to inject its rna/dna into to produce more of the virus.

    I have heard of that fungus in ants. Scary as hell. Imagine if that infection started on the european ant colony. How long would it take to spread to other incects, or jump to arthopods?

    Fun stuff. I saw a living dead movie where it was a virus, but the virus wasn’t what caused them to crave brains. The hosts ‘died’ and they could feel the pain of their body decaying, and the only way to sooth the pain was with living brains.

  2. How about prions (protein+infection)? As far as i know, they’re just proteins folded up in a similar way to a protein it’s copying in the host but with a slight difference that causes altered behaviour. Also, since it’s a protein, it’s really difficult to detect and identify. CJD (mad cow disease) is caused by a prion and at first may actually look like zombism, with personality changes, speech impairment and jerky movements.
    So i definitely agree with you about the virus not being the most likely explanation and thanks for making me give this some thought, I had never rationalized prions as a cause of zombies before!

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