Weird Nature Horsehair Worms Are Real, Horrifying Parasites... And They've Evolved To Attack Humanity  

Eric Vega
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If you haven't been traumatized today, then you've come to the right place. Here you can meet the members of the nematomorpha family, a species of creepy worm parasites that leave their victims scarred both physically and emotionally. Also known as horsehair worms, these disgusting parasitoid animals can be found in nearly every corner of the globe terrorizing their hosts and sucking the life right out of them. Many horsehair worms can even grow to be as heavy as the hosts they inhabit. Highly invasive, these creatures can take over a host's bodily functions, even going as far as rewiring their victim's brains.

Parasitic horsehair worms primarily target invertebrates like insects but scientists believe that the worms are increasingly becoming a concern for humans as well. Studies documenting the risk of horsehair worms infecting humans have been published recently and the results are more than a little disconcerting.

If we're going to make sure that a horrifying epidemic of mind-controlling worms doesn't take over humanity, we're going to have to get to know our enemy a little better.

This Video Of A Horsehair Worm Emerging From A Praying Mantis Is The Most Scarring Thing On The Internet


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Their Lives Are Like Something Out Of A Twisted Sci-Fi Movie


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Photo: Dr. Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa/Wikimedia Commons

Horsehair worms have a complicated and unsettling life cycle that plays out like a rejected movie script from the Alien franchise. Each one starts off as an egg, just one of 15 million laid by the mother. Once hatched, getting eaten becomes a worm's top priority so that they can start their parasitic life. Some species choose hosts that are likely to become food for even larger insects, allowing them to infect the largest possible host.

After finding the perfect insect to infect, they begin to grow exponentially. When they're fully matured and ready to reproduce, they force their hosts to seek out a body of water where they might then burst forth from their victim's bodies in frantic search for a mate. 

A Sort Of Mind Control Allows The Worms To Drive Their Hosts To Suicide


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Photo: Andreas Schmidt-Rhaesa/Wikimedia Commons

A critical part of every horsehair worm's life is their eventual emergence from the host body but they can't emerge just anywhere. Because these worms are aquatic animals and need water to lay their eggs, they've developed an adaptation that allows them to take over their host's mind. It might sound like science fiction, but horsehair worms essentially "zombify" their hosts and force them to seek out water. Creatures that are normally skittish around damp surfaces will willingly throw themselves into the nearest creek, pond, or puddle at the command of the parasite.

The worms achieve this mind control affect by pumping brain altering chemicals known as neurotransmitters into their victim. This changes the host's behavior dramatically, even driving them suicidal.

They Have No Mouths, So Scientists Don't Know How They Chew Through Their Hosts


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Photo: Gilles San Martin/Wikimedia Commons

Since these parasites lack basic bodily features, like a mouth, for instance, scientists still can't positively explain the horsehair worm's lifecycle. No one knows exactly how they manage to bore through the carapaces of their victims, but it's obvious they're not chewing their way out. It's possible that these muscular worms simply force their way by pushing as hard as they can, but it's difficult to say.