Science Cafe: Zombies

Zombies do exist, and Washington State is currently in the middle of an expanding infestation. Mutant creatures are being behaviorally altered, acting in inexplicable ways before dying grisly deaths, their rotten heads being pushed off from the inside by parasites that have lived inside of them, feasting on internal organs in order to grow. Of course, it should be mentioned that these mutants aren’t human, but rather bumblebees.

On Nov.29, Bellevue College’s Science and Math Institute partnered with Multicultural Services to put on the fall quarter’s third and final Science Café, a series of open lectures about scientific topics with the added attraction of free pizza and fellowship. The topic of the final lecture: Zombies in Nature.

Physics professor Regina Degraaff introduced the lecture, given by resident BC entomologist. “We partnered with MCS because we wanted to make science fun and we want to really increase diversity in science,” said Degraaff

With this, the presentation was turned over to Fuller:“I’m here to talk about zombies in nature. I’m guessing that you won’t have too many issues coming up with questions to ask after it: I do want to say though that the focus will not be on human zombies, but I’m happy to field questions about human zombies.”

Fuller introduced through slides the concepts of parasites and parasitoids, the latter being insects that undergo metamorphosis inside their living hosts, and then emerge from the hollowed out bodies of their unwitting food source. One example is the phorid fly, which has recently been in the local news for its attacks on honey-bees. The flies inject their eggs into the bees, causing the bees to behave erratically as the larvae grow inside it.

The bees fly at night and bump into things; they stumble around on the ground much like Hollywood depictions of human zombies. Eventually the bee dies and the young larvae often emerge out of the head of the deceased bee.

Fuller showed other examples of parasites and parasitoids in nature. Some of the examples resembled horror classics like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “Aliens,” Cordyceps is a fungus which inhabits the bodies of insects such as ants. The ants are then compelled by some invisible force to climb upwards; on trees, bushes, rocks, anything that will put them in an advantageous position for the next phase of the fungi’s plan.

The ants then summarily die and the fungus bursts out of the ant’s head. It grows for a period of several weeks, like a long rope until it matures and then burst open, raining down spores from its strategically chosen location onto any hapless ants below.

The session ended with a brief Q &A, where Fuller encouraged students to ask speculative questions about the possible factors that could potentially contribute to the creation of human zombies.

“We want to talk about zombies, they’re really cool,” said one anonymous attendee, “also, to eat pizza.” Student Elizabeth Delery said, “I came because my teacher Susan Miller actually told me about the event and thought it was a great idea, and I love zombies.”