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Jul 14 2014

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: Respect for the nematomorph

There’s a new vampire series on FX by Guillermo Del Toro, The Strain. I haven’t seen it — I don’t get that channel — but I’ve read the book, which I found interesting for making vampires utterly disgusting, and also for stealing biological analogues for the infection (alas, I thought the story started very well but got tedious by the end). Apparently, the model for the vampire parasite was the horsehair worm, or nematomorpha. These are best known as parasites of orthopterans.

HHW_movie

I do have to object to one statement in that story: “Really, for my money, worms are among the worst animal groups out there.” Worms are not a proper taxon. The Nematomorpha are a completely different phylum from the worms most people are familiar with, from nematodes, from polychaetes, from flatworms, etc. Worms are phyletically diverse! Not all of them turn you into a vampire.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    fmitchell

    #NotAllWorms

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

  2. 2
    Marius

    That gif is disgustingly hypnotic.

  3. 3
    barbaz

    What were they? And how had they got into the bodies of these insects?

    And, most importantly, HOW CAN I KILL IT???????

  4. 4
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    Cordyceps is the real life inspiration for the Paras and Parasect Pokemon.

  5. 5
    birgerjohansson

    “Not all of them turn you into a vampire.”

    …But the right fungal parasite can turn you into a zombie.
    “The Girl With All the Gifts” http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/07/mike_carey_s_zombie_novel_the_girl_with_all_the_gifts_reviewed.html

  6. 6
    davidnangle

    With: Fire; kill it. From orbit: Nuke it; to be sure.

  7. 7
    lakitha tolbert

    I watched The Strain. It’s every bit as disgusting as these videos and the worms in the show look remarkably similiar.

    (I think the CDC scentists are all complete dumbasses in the show, however.)

  8. 8
    Trikeabout

    Also for the Cordyceps fans, last year’s rather good PS3/PS4game The Last Of Us.

  9. 9
    azhael

    I’ve been finding nematomorphs in troughs since childhood, i always thought they were cool, particularly because of the REALLY tough cuticle which does make them feel like a hair (mind you, a hair from Satan’s armpit). When i learnt about the phylum and their life cycle at uni i learnt to appreciate them even more! They are gross, sure, but come on, they are fascinating!

  10. 10
    David Chapman

    9
    azhael

    I’ve been finding nematomorphs in troughs since childhood, i always thought they were cool, particularly because of the REALLY tough cuticle which does make them feel like a hair (mind you, a hair from Satan’s armpit). When i learnt about the phylum and their life cycle at uni i learnt to appreciate them even more! They are gross, sure, but come on, they are fascinating!

    You sound like a born parasitologist.
    À chacun son goût! :)
    ( PS My french isn’t up to producing a gender-free version of this useful expression, alas. )

  11. 11
    richardelguru

    David
    ‘Fraid you can’t it’s a grammatical gender (and only sort of related to sex). Damn Froggies ;-)

    Why not try ‘de gustibus non disputandum est’

  12. 12
    chigau (違う)

    十人十色。

  13. 13
    richardelguru

    Chigau

    But… but… there are only seven colours! (I seed a rainbow only the other day. Pretty!)

  14. 14
    numerobis

    David Chapman @10: “À chacun son goût” is free of assumptions about the gender of the humans involved. The gender indicated is that of goût (taste) which is masculine because reasons. Reasons that we don’t generally know. You can only really tell that my father is not a native francophone because he screws up genders of inanimate objects and concepts constantly.

    richardelguru@11: The only time I’ve really felt ethnic hatred directed at me was by a couple kids in middle school who called me a “frog”. The power relation was such that it didn’t wound me, and it felt like an antiquated slur at the time, but even then, you might want to avoid using slurs even in jest.

  15. 15
    richardelguru

    mea culpa

    You can call me a ‘goddam’ if you like :-)

  16. 16
    AlexanderZ

    You tell her, richardelguru! There… are.. SEVEN COLORS!

    chigau, does “ten ten” mean a hundred, or does it just an expression for “a lot”?

  17. 17
    aaronbaker

    Seeing this sort of thing always makes me wonder whether insects feel pain in anything like the way we do. It seems entirely possible they do–which possibility is horrifying and depressing.

  18. 18
    chigau (違う)

    alexanderz
    十人十色。
    ju nin to iro
    Ten people, ten colours.

  19. 19
    AlexanderZ

    Thanks chigau!
    I knew I shouldn’t have trusted Google Translate…

  20. 20
    Kagato

    chigau, does “ten ten” mean a hundred…

    Ten ten.

  21. 21
    azhael

    @ David Chapman

    Oh brilliant…if an interest in herpetology with a heavy focus on salamanders wasn’t bad enough to explain to people, now i’ll have to begin dates with ” i love parasites :D”.

    @aaronbaker

    I may very well be wrong about this, but as far as i’ve heard there is no evidence in insects of the pressence of the neuron type that is directly involved in pain transmission in vertebrates. Alternative mechanisms that would serve an analogous function are also unknown. This suggest that they don’t feel pain, at least definitely not the way we do. I certainly hope they don’t because i’ve beheaded, frozen or squashed so many over the years…:S

  22. 22
    aaronbaker

    @azhael

    Thanks for the information!

  23. 23
    David Chapman

    I may very well be wrong about this, but as far as i’ve heard there is no evidence in insects of the pressence of the neuron type that is directly involved in pain transmission in vertebrates. Alternative mechanisms that would serve an analogous function are also unknown.

    Supposing you’re right, and such types of neurons don’t occur in insects, the only type of mechanism necessary — to transmit information about damage — is some type of sensory neuron, surely? And insects must have those in order to function. Both in general, and specifically with regard to damage: if something is biting off half of an insects leg they need to know that that is happening. They possibly don’t do pain they same way do, but that would be hardly surprising; they do lots of the same things or similar thing to what we do, but in different ways, for example they breath through spiracles instead of lungs; but they still breath.
    If insects are conscious, in the sense of the kind of consciousness that can feel whether something is pleasant or unpleasant, than they almost certainly feel destructive events such as you describe as very unpleasant. But our understanding of these matters is not nearly advanced enough to know whether they are or not.
    Consciousness however, is well known to occur in us and other invertebrates in the brain, not the section of the nervous system that supplies ( transmits ) information to the brain. I’m afraid the suggestion that they might not have the specific kind of pain transmission neurons as we do hardly answers the question.

  24. 24
    David Chapman

    17
    aaronbaker

    Seeing this sort of thing always makes me wonder whether insects feel pain in anything like the way we do. It seems entirely possible they do–which possibility is horrifying and depressing.

    It would certainly be horrifying, but are you sure it’s depressing? Isn’t it highly reasonable to assume that, if this is true, they also feel pleasure?

  25. 25
    knowknot

    Ah. The Evangelist Worm. “Seek the light.”
     
    AKA “Captain Higgins”: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/captain_higgins

  26. 26
    aaronbaker

    @24:

    I must admit I hadn’t thought of that.

  27. 27
    aaronbaker

    @23:

    nothing here that I can disagree with. I will remain uncomfortably agnostic on this subject, I imagine.

  28. 28
    David Marjanović

    Both in general, and specifically with regard to damage: if something is biting off half of an insects leg they need to know that that is happening.

    Do they really need to? From what I’ve seen, they make no attempt to compensate…

    I’ve even read, in a book from a crueler decade, that if you take a pair of nail scissors and carefully cut off the abdomen of a bee while the bee is drinking, the bee just keeps drinking, and you can watch the water drip out.

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