Zombies don’t just exist in shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ — here are 9 real examples of zombie animals in nature
- Zombies are ubiquitous in horror films, TV shows, and sci-fi novels.
- While the concept of reanimated corpses seems unrealistic, certain viruses and parasites in nature can cause animals to act in a zombie-like manner.
- Diseases like rabies and sleeping sickness can cause an animal to behave in ways that are out of its control, and the stings of certain insects can cause their victims to act like undead slaves.
- Here are nine examples of zombie-like phenomena in nature.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Zombies are ubiquitous in popular culture — the undead appear in everything from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to movies like “World War Z” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead.”
Even the White Walkers in “Game of Thrones” raise an army of undead wights — corpses that have been reanimated with magic and kill on command.
Zombies are typically defined as will-less, supernaturally reanimated creatures that sometimes behave in markedly strange ways. Although a zombie apocalypse may seem outside the realm of plausibility, more than a handful of real viruses and parasites can cause members of the animal kingdom to act like the undead. Diseases like rabies, for example, prompt aggressive and strange behavior, while some insect stings enable one type of bug to exert its will over another.
Some fictional stories even portray the zombie condition as passed through bites or bodily fluids (we see this in the movies “I Am Legend” and “28 Days Later”); that type of transmission is true of illnesses like chronic wasting disease, which affect an animal’s brain and central nervous system.
Here are nine ways animals can turn into something akin to a zombie.
Chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease,” is a type of neurodegenerative prion disease found in hoofed animals like elk, moose, and various deer species.
Zombie deer disease affects an animal’s brain and nervous system. Infected animals’ bodies waste away as they lose weight at a rapid pace, and they eventually begin to stumble around confused, drooling and listless — hence the zombie moniker.
Other neurodegenerative prion diseases have affected humans in the past. Mad cow disease is one example, as is a disease called “kuru” that spread among the Fore people, an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea, during the 1950s and 1960s.
The Fore were known to ritually prepare and eat the brains of deceased relatives, but that sparked a kuru outbreak, according to NPR; the disease seemed to spread from infected brain tissue. People who got the condition lost the ability to control their limbs and bodily functions.
The rabies virus can lead to delirium, partial paralysis, and hyper-salivation if left untreated.
Rabies is a viral disease typically transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. It spreads when an infected creature’s spit gets into another animal’s blood, eyes, nose, or mouth.
Rabies starts off rather innocuously with flu-like symptoms, but it can become fatal. If left untreated, the virus causes swelling in the body’s central nervous system (the brain and spine), which leads to more severe physical symptoms including paralysis, seizures, and muscle spasms that can cause unusual postures.
As the virus progress, it causes animals to behave abnormally and impairs their balance and coordination. They hyper-salivate and have trouble breathing and swallowing. Sometimes, rabies-infected creatures will act aggressively or even mutilate themselves.
Raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, and some bat species can carry rabies. These animals can pass it to dogs, cats, and even humans.
Every year, 55,000 people die from rabies around the world. Fortunately, the rabies vaccine is 100% effective post-exposure if administered before serious symptoms manifest.
Like rabies, African sleeping sickness affects an animal’s nervous system.
African sleeping sickness is caused by parasites transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly in Africa. The disease can affect many types of mammals, including cattle, sheep, elephants, South African white-tailed deer, and primates. Infected animals become listless and emaciated, losing hair and becoming weaker until paralysis sets in.
The most notable symptom of sleeping sickness, which gives the disease its name, comes after the parasite has invaded the brain: Infected people are unable to sleep at night and can’t stay awake during the day.
Humans can contract sleeping sickness; infected people experience fevers and muscle aches, following by mental deterioration, personality changes, and problems with walking and balance if the disease is left untreated. There is no vaccine to prevent sleeping sickness, but several drug treatments are available for infected patients.
“Victims find it hard to concentrate. They become irritable, their speech is slurred and they stop eating,” Sanjeev Krishna, a professor of medicine at the University of London, told the BBC, adding, “this is an infection that carries nightmarish qualities, reducing many of its victims to a zombie-like state before they go into a coma and die.”