Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Björk and the Zombie Snails

No, it's not a tribute band. The quirky Icelandic musician Björk has a new album out, called Biophilia. Appropriately enough, the tracks are inspired by themes of nature and biology.

One of the songs in particular, "Virus", was written after Björk learned about "zombie snails" on YouTube. It has nothing to do with real viruses, though (Disclaimer: I haven't heard the album yet so I can't say if the music is any good). These snails are parasitized by a trematode worm called Leucochloridium paradoxum, which you can see in the photo below.

Succinea mit Leucocholoridium
Snail infected with Leucochloridium paradoxum in its eyestalk.
Look closely at the eyestalk on the right. Yup, that's filled with worm. But it's not just one worm. It's a structure called the brood-sac, which contains hundreds of cercariae – little larval worms ("trematode life cycle" on Wikipedia. The sac is banded and green and pulsates. This attracts the attention of birds, which think that it's actually their favorite food, maggots or caterpillars. They swoop in and peck off an eyestalk with all the worms in them. The worms end up in the gut of the bird, and are carried in there to be pooped out somewhere else. Free transportation! Snails grazing along eat some bird poop with the parasites in them, and get infected, completing the cycle.

Find out more about the sneaky life cycle of this worm from this article on Wired magazine, or read the Wikipedia article, or just watch the video that inspired Björk:

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