The Craziest Parasite Life Cycles

Webster's defines parasites as "the scariest things on earth, that threaten our very way of life." Or at least that's how they should define them. Parasites are utterly frightening and the effect they have on their hosts does not tend to be pleasant. Some of them out there are truly terrifying and the little buggers live absolute crazy life cycles. Check out the list below for some of the craziest parasites and their odd life cycles so you know exactly what to avoid. 

  • What could be scarier than a parasite that can control minds? That's exactly what we're dealing with in regards to the zombie ant fungus (scientific name Ophiocordyceps, which is admittedly less cool-sounding). This horrid parasite starts off as fungal spores on the ground. The spores infect ants and slowly start working their way through the ant's body until they reach the ant's brain. Once there, they release mind-controlling chemicals that allow the parasite to completely control the ant. These chemicals make the ant climb up vegetation and clamp down on a leaf, where the ant then dies. Then the parasite bursts out of the ant's head, growing a stalk that makes more of the parasite. 
  • Guinea Worm
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain
    Be careful of the water you drink. If it's not clean, you run the risk of inviting the horrible guinea worm into your body. Research shows that this parasite has been around for thousands of years, yet it still presents a major problem for us today. This parasite lives within microscopic fleas in water. Once a mammal (re: us) drinks it, our stomach acid dissolves the flea, but leaves the parasite. They burrow within our bodies and while the male is eventually dissolved, the fertilized female can grow up to three feet in length. After maybe a year, the worm decides to reveal itself, causing a super painful burning sensation as it pokes through the skin. The only way to stop the pain is to dip the exposed worm in water, which automatically releases thousands of new larvae to start the whole cycle over again. 
  • The only known instance in the animal kingdom where a parasite actively replaces a major organ, the tongue-eating fish parasite is not to be trifled with. This creature, usually male, infiltrates a fish's body through its gills and starts to mature. Once a second parasite enters the gills, it causes the first one to switch sexes into a female, impregnates it, and then the female casually make its way through the fish to find its tongue. Once there, it clamps down on the tongue and over a period of time, drains it of all of its blood until it's nothing but a nub. Seeing an opportunity, the parasite then attaches itself and becomes the fish's new tongue until it's ready to release its babies out into the world. 
  • The cuckoo bird is a type of brood parasite, which makes it one of the meanest birds in the animal kingdom. Instead of making its own nest, female cuckoos will fly around until they find another bird's nest. Then they will take an egg and replace it with one of their own. What does it do with the other egg it takes? It eats it, of course! Then it makes the other bird raise the cuckoo as its own. It's not like the baby is innocent either - once it hatches, it's not afraid to attack or push the other baby birds out of the nest in order to get more attention from mama bird. For some reason, the mom never suspects the cuckoo is an impostor. Once it's big enough, it flies away from its adoptive family to do the same thing elsewhere, presumably only returning for Christmas and other major family-related holidays.