Despite being gifted with the body of an explosive predator, I refuse to take a life. This characteristic, which should earn me praise among humanitarian social circles has somehow been mistaken for cowardice when I'm faced with an insect. I don't avoid killing out of a love for all creatures, because, suffice it to say, some animals just suck. I avoid it because the fight wouldn't be fair and I am nothing if not honor-bound.
I could destroy you.
That said, I get tremendous satisfaction out of seeing these animals die in extraordinary but natural ways. The world has provided some ruthless parasites that target the insects, spiders and rats I hate most. These parasites don't just kill either, they torture, emasculate and generally show their hosts such unapologetic violence that I can't help but be impressed. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and I consider these five tiny torture artists my allies for life.
Ants are awful. They mock us with their super strength, their unrelenting commitment to the species and by eating all our floor candy. Also, like a passive aggressive roommate, the ant loves to hang out in your kitchen pointing out the dirty plates you left in the sink or the crumbs on the floor by silently hovering around them until you notice. If an ant could refold the dishtowel every time you finish with it while sighing loudly, it absolutely would.
"Somehow the toilet paper roll is on the wrong way again. Just a heads up."
Fortunately, there are a handful of parasites who want nothing more than to ruin an ant's day. The liver fluke (Dicrocoelium dentriticum) in particular spends a healthy portion of its existence trying to get an ant accidentally eaten by a cow. The liver fluke will travel through three different species of animal in its life but will only actively try to kill one of those hosts. It begins as an egg in cow feces which is devoured by a snail. It hatches inside the snail and then gets expelled into a slime ball which is, in turn, eaten by an ant.
This is where the liver fluke gets malicious.
It will infect the ant's mind, changing the insect's behavior -- but only at night. The ant functions normally throughout the day until the temperature drops in the evening, at which point the infected ant feels a very specific urge to climb to the top of a blade of grass where it will potentially be ingested by grazing cattle.
What a dumb way to die.
Forcing an insect to be eaten by a slow moving, stupid vegetarian mammal is a pretty specific humiliation to make an ant suffer, still, the liver fluke does it each night, the reason being that the liver fluke can only fully mature and reproduce inside the cow's liver and also because fuck ants.
The average day for a housefly is spent running into windows, throwing up on exposed food and then getting lost inside a lampshade. They're hopelessly stupid creatures right up until you carry one outside in a glass to free it and it deliberately flies back into your house before you can shut the door. Everything a fly does seems intentionally annoying; they are animals designed by nature to infuriate humans. If flies started dropping out of the sky by the thousands instead of birds, we would throw a massive parade just to hear the crunching sound of their bodies under the floats.
Parades need candy.
While I may never see swarms of flies drop dead in midair, I take pleasure in knowing there's a parasitic fungus out there that makes them explode. The Entomophthora fungus, or Insect Destroyer is a fungus that eats flies from the inside out and then fires spores off in every direction in the hope of landing on a new host. The spores only germinate when they land on an insect and immediately begin penetrating the cuticle of the fly. From there, the fungus replicates inside the fly, devouring its insides for about five days. Just before the host dies and when the spores of the fungus are ready for dispersal again, the fungus tricks the fly's brain into climbing to the highest, most conspicuous spot, for an epic death in an explosion of spores.
The Insect Destroyer, is a hard name to live up to.
Rats are miserable animals. If their interest in trash, proclivity for stealing and general obnoxiousness weren't enough, rats have the added bonus of being completely terrifying. It's hard to identify exactly what it is about a rat physically that makes them horror incarnate because I don't like the idea of looking at them for long periods of time, but if I had to guess, I would say it's partially because of the soulless black eyes and partially because they are walking biological weapons. In fact, if you are a new parent and happen to see your baby in the disease-ridden paws of a rat then, man, just let it go and start over. That's not a battle that's worth winning.
"Gross. Keep him."
The Toxoplasma gondii parasite is one of the few things that make me feel better about the ubiquity of rats around the world. The parasite lives its adult life hiding away in the intestines of housecats and laying eggs in their feces. But, like most kids who are born into shit, the parasite acts out in the early years by torturing small animals. T. gondii spends an incubation period inside rats, altering their brain chemistry in oddly specific ways: the parasite destroys whatever impulse a rat has to stay away from predators like cats. But rather than just emboldening the rats, the parasite then makes rats attracted to the smell of cat urine.
"Don't you look at me. Don't you dare look at me."We've mentioned this parasite before but recent studies show that it's not just a fleeting curiosity on the part of the rodent either, the rat is sexually attracted to the smell of cat urine and, presumably, interested in nailing a cat. In most cases, the cat won't see any immediate gain from the arrangement and will opt instead to eviscerate the rat. This focused brand of torture is all an elaborate method to get back into the cat's intestines, but from the perspective of an outside observer, I can't help but feel like T. gondii and I are on the same page about how badly rats suck.