Zombie Parasites | Nat Geo Live


( intro music )Parasites are not degenerates,they’re actually maybe the most
successful life form on earth.
And they do all sorts of
amazing things.
They were using their hostsfor all sorts of
nefarious purposes
to get what they needed.If you see a ladybug huddled
over some little bit of fluff,
you’re looking at a
zombie bodyguard.
( applause ) So originally when they were
organizing this talk, they were trying to
convince us to, dress up and I wasn’t quite
willing to do that. But, I did bring
my favorite T-shirt, so… If you can’t tell,
that’s a schistosome there. ( audience laughing ) So, my goal in this in photographing these
creatures was to… get past this visceral aversion
we all have towards parasites, and try to show how amazing
these creatures really are! So, if I’m going to try to
convince you that parasites are cool, I’m going to start with
the star of the show.So this is a ladybugstanding guard over
the cocoon of a wasp
and the way this works,
is that wasp lays an egg,
it injects an egg
into that ladybug
and the egg hatches and
it grows inside the ladybug and the larval wasp inside
actually knows to avoid the vital organs
of that ladybug because if it chews
on those vital organs it will kill the ladybug and
it will die too. So it avoids the vital organs
and when it’s ready to come out, it pushes its way out of the
abdomen of that ladybug and it spins its cocoon.
And the problem is this cocoon is a
very vulnerable stage in the lifecycle of this wasp.
It’s just sitting there immobile ready to be eaten by
any predator that walks by. So, that’s why it’s gotten this
ladybug to stand guard over it.And the amazing thing is
this ladybug will sit there
twitching for days over this,
this wasp
and if it’s able to survive
the seven days that the wasp takes to
develop into an adult the ladybug can
actually recover. The mind control can wear off and that ladybug can go to
re-grow its internal organs and go on to reproduce.This is the wasp
that’s responsible for that,
this is
Dinocampus coccinellae,
it’s, she’s barely
a centimeter long
and I can tell
she’s a female, both
because she’s got this
ovipositor at the end,
the stinger
that she uses
to inject the eggs
and also because this species
is parthenogenetic, which means it doesn’t need to fertilize
its eggs to reproduce, it can clone itself, and so it injects an egg
into the ladybug, It does not need to be
fertilized, and all of those eggs will
develop to be more females. The entire species is female. Actually there has been
four or five males that has been identified
over the course of studying this creature and frankly I don’t know
how that really works, I don’t know how
parthenogenesis works.
It’s crazy. and it will have to be the topic
of another discussion. Now ladybugs are
not the only ones that get turned into
bodyguards. There’s another wasp
in this family Braconidae that infects caterpillarsand in this case it injects
several dozen eggs
at the same time.Those eggs hatch
inside the caterpillar
and just like the ladybugthey know to avoid
the internal organs
of the caterpillar,
just like the ladybug
they have a virus that
helps them. It’s a different kind of virus but in this case the virus
tricks the immune system of the caterpillar to protect,
to hide these invaders and the virus actually
changes the metabolism of the caterpillar
so that it gorges itself and it prevents the caterpillar from transforming
into an adult, so the virus turns
the caterpillar into a feeding machine
for these wasp larva.So this is a video of this
process. It starts with the
adult wasp stinging and
injecting those eggs
into a newly hatched
caterpillar. Those caterpillars
then go about their normal life
for the next week
feeding and growingand waiting for those
wasp larva to emerge.
When they are ready
they chew their way
through the skin
of the caterpillar.
And they come out
by the dozens.
So they actually
spin their cocoon
as they are emerging
from the caterpillar.
The amazing thing
about this process is that
the caterpillar survives,
it wakes up,
it crawls on the top of the pile
of cocoons and it spins that
additional layer
of protective silk.
And the reason for this,the entire purpose
of the protection
is to prevent this.This is a hyperparasitoid waspinjecting its egg
into the parasitic wasp
that just emerged
from the caterpillar.
So an additional layer
of parasitism
above the
mind controlling one. It’s pretty cool. So this theme of
trying to protect that delicate larval stage…
that pupation, that’s a common theme. And there’s another wasp
in different groupthat uses a different approach
than the bodyguard style.
What it does is,
it catches the spider
and lays an egg on its back.So this is a spider
that lives in the
palm plantations of Costa Ricaand it’s got a wasp larva
hanging on its back.
This is one that
has hatched out
and it’s feeding on hemolymph,
the blood of that spider.
And what it does
when it’s ready to pupate, instead of turning that spider
into a bodyguard, it gets the spider to build
a special kind of web. And so normally webs are
designed to catch insects, this web is designed to support the weight
of the cocoon. And so the wasp larva waits until the spider’s done
building this web, it then kills it and
then hangs its cocoon safely off the floor
of the forest.So this is the stagewhere the spider has just
finished building that web
and the wasp returns the favorby killing it
and eating it.
And this is that
specialized web.
And you can tell
what the spiders built
because
the spider silk is white
and wasp silk is yellow.So this is a video
starting with,
after the spider
has been killed.
That wasp larva is feeding on
every last drop
of the spider’s blood in order
to store up enough energy
to transform into an adult.And then when it’s ready
to transform,
it’s finished digesting
that spider
it then drops its own silk
off of the spider web
and spins its cocoon.And you can actually see
how it uses its head
to hollow out the cavity
inside of that cocoon.
These… these wasps
have figured out this mind control thing
pretty well. And the, the queen of
all mind controlling wasps isthe emerald cockroach wasp.So this is a wasp that hunts
cockroaches to feed its young
And it is more cunning
and sophisticated
than your typical predator like
a lion or a shark. So what it does is, it starts
by paralyzing the cockroach.It stings it
right behind its head,
paralysis the cockroach
and then it snakes
its stinger into the brain
of the cockroach
where it has special censorsso that it can grope
around the brain
and find exactly the part
that is responsible
for generating the motivation
for movement.
And it disables that part.
And what that means is the cockroach is
fully functional, all of its muscles work but it cannot generate
the will to move on its own. Instead it takes its queues
from the wasp. So the wasp comes back,it holds the antenna of that
cockroach,
with its mouth
and it leads it
as if walking a dog
to its burrow,
where it lays an egg
on its belly and buries it to be
eaten alive by its babies. And those wasp larva
just like the others they know how to avoid
the internal organs they can keep it fresh
as long as possible and on top of that, they actually smear this
disinfecting substance on the inside of the cockroach
to keep it from rotting.This is a
horsehair worm,
it’s using its host as bothhousing and transportation.
So in this case,
the worm grows up
inside the cricket
and once it gets
a little cramped in there,
it wants to come out.
And really this worm has a free living part
of its life stage. It doesn’t live his whole life
in the cricket. But the problem is
where it comes out, it has to be wet,
it’s an aquatic worm when it comes out. So if it came out in dry land
it would dry up and die. So it makes the cricket
go find water so that it can jump in,
commit suicide and that worm can go on
to continue its life cycle. So, in that pond
or in that stream the worm will go find a mate,
it will lay a bunch of eggs, those eggs hatch and they
burrow into mosquito larva. And they insist themselves
in a mosquito larva, so when the mosquitoes emerge
and they fly out, their cysts are still there and that mosquito lives
its normal life, it dies on land and
it gets eaten by a cricket. And the worm cyst
actually knows when it’s inside of a cricket
and that’s when it knows, it can start developing. That’s
how the life cycle continues.This is an ant
that has been infected by
‘Ophiocordyceps’.And this fungus,
it gets the ant
to crawl up
the stalk of a plant
out till the end of a leaf
and it kills the ant there
so that when the fungus sendsits reproductive
structures out
those spores are
better able to disperse
onto the forest floor.This is actually a really
diverse group of fungi and each species of fungus
has its own host and it gets its host
to clampdown in different parts
of the plant. Some of them are
at the tip of the leaf, some of them are
on the underside, some of them are
at the base of a tree and it’s thought that they
are manipulating their host to maximize the ability
to disperse on to more ants. And so they’ve actually shown
there are places where the fungus is
getting the ant to die above the foraging lines
of its colony. So that when those
spores come out, they’re more likely
to get in contact with more ants.And actually the white eye
you see here,
that’s fungus as well.So what the fungus does is,it hollows out
the entire inside of that ant
and it just so happens
that the exoskeleton
right in front of eye,
it’s thin enough
that you can see
the fungal tissue
through the eye membrane.So this is a video of an antthis is a
different species of ant.
That’s also been
infected by this
cordyceps fungus–
Ophiocordyceps fungus.
It’s in its last hour of life.It’s just twitching thereand the fungus has forced it to
bite down on edge of this leaf.
And what happens is that
first night
after that fungus
kills the ant
it bursts through,
the weaker joints
of the exoskeleton
and spends the next week,
growing a reproductive stockout of the back
of the ant’s head.
Now… my favorite parasite
that I photographed is the Rhizocephala.The Rhizocephala is a
tiny little parasitic barnacle
that infects sheep crabs.
This is a sheep crab here.
And what it does is it
gets into the sheep crab
and if the sheep crab
started off as a male it turns it into a female.
It feminizes the crab and that’s because
only female crabs have this structure
that can house eggs. And so the parasite waits
for this feminized male to grow this egg chamber,
it lays its own eggs in that egg chamber
and then it activates the maternal care instinct
of this crab so that it thinks
it’s pregnant and it will care for
the eggs of the parasite. Then every two weeks, those eggs mature
and they hatch out and they go on to infect
more crabs. So what you see here isevery little speck
in this photo
is a newly hatched
parasitic barnacle
that is going out to infect
a new crab.
So let me, let me back up
and tell little more about
where the story came from,
where the idea came from.
So I was working
with my editor Todd James and you know, he just said
look we got to figure out a fresh approach to this, it’s got to be
something different. And you know, I agreed,
the pictures of parasites I had seen to that point
were like jars of leeches or a worm getting pulled out of
somebody’s eye and its like– They were very successful
in grossing you out, but they really failed
in getting you to appreciate how incredible
these creatures are. But then there’s also
the sake of this, this problem of okay, what,
how do I light these creatures, these parasites in a new way. Because up until that point,
macro photography for me was find a cool bug,
shine some light on it, take a picture. You know, you could make it
a sharp light, you could make it soft light, you could light if from
this way or that way, that’s about it.
I mean how do I, how do I take this
to a next level? How I find a
more interesting way to light these creatures? And I had this idea
while I was sitting in my friend Stacy’s apartment
in Oakland. And I don’t remember
what we’re talking about because I was distracted by the quality of light
on her face. She was sitting
in front of a window.This is Stacy in front of
her window in Oakland
and the window light was
coming around her head,
lighting the sides of her
cheeks and her nose
and showing
the topography in a way,
that I never really
thought about before.
I thought how do
I scale this down to a parasite level. Can I use this
to light parasites and show the shape and
contours in a new way? And so I had my Stacy light,
I had my volcano light I had this idea of how to
light backgrounds to emphasize the drama and action going on, but you know,
what does that really look like to implement in the field. Well, let me show you.Most of the work was done
in hotel rooms.
So this is a hotel room
in Costa Rica,
where I’m trying to
photograph this
spider being parasitized
by a wasp
there’s buckets of spiders
everywhere
that I’m trying to hide from
the housekeeping staff
so they won’t throw them out.And then, you know,hotel rooms really aren’t
well-designed for photography,
so there is a lot of
moving furniture around
and in this case,
what I’m trying to do is
I’m trying to set up
a time lapse
of these fungus flowers
in South Dakota, growing,
and I borrowed this light
that had been confiscated
from an illegal marijuana
growing operation in Spearfish
( laughter ) And had been
donated to the University
who then lent it to me.
And after all this effort,
it totally failed.
It was not useful at all.And I ended up building
a lot of my own contraptions,
lighting contraptions
in this case
I was trying to use this
fiber-optic linelight
to build a makeshift scanner,
to scan this plant
because there’s a
beautiful quality of light
that flatbed scanners
produce on flowers
and I wanted to try to
make that and it
again totally failed.
It was
a pain in the butt to use,
it didn’t really workout.
This is the setup
I used to photograph the cover
in a lab in Montréal.And so I was able to set up
in some research labs,
which has some advantages
and disadvantages.
The main disadvantage
is sometimes
you don’t have a lot of space,this is in Boulder
at P. Johnson’s lab
where I’m trying to photograph
this deformed frog.
Of all of these creatures,
though, the most difficult
to photograph was actually that cricket, and I visited this lab
in New Mexico, a couple of times
where Ben Hanelt had these infected crickets
in his lab. And the first time
they all died the night before I got there,
the second time they weren’t ready
the worms took too long to, to mature
so they weren’t ready when I got there
and I just said you know what, forgot this
and I packed them into my bag and I flew back with them
to California. And so my housemates
at this point are used to this
kind of nonsense and one of them is a
documentary film maker and so he filmed me, photographing these
crickets, so…I kept them in the,in the hot water
heater room,
where they would stay warm.
This is my kitchen.
And the thing about these
crickets and the worms
is that you can actually tellwhen the worms are
ready to come out.
They actually turn dark brown,and you can see them
coiled up
inside the belly
of these crickets.
And so I’m setting up
my fiber-optic lights
and getting ready to
photograph these things.
Not my best hair day.( laughter )Most of this stuff happensat 2 o’clock in
the morning and so I
sort of didn’t remember that
he was filming me that day.
And so, I’m actually putting
a layer of Rain X
down on the glass
and so that
beads up the water nicely.
And then I put the crickets
in the fridge,
for a few minutes
to cool them down
so they wouldn’t hop
all over the place.
And the liquid that I’m using
is not actually water,
it’s called cricket saline,
it’s a solution that mimics
the internal chemistry
of the cricket.
So, that when the worms
come out they don’t freak out.
They think they’re still
inside the cricket.
So that picture took me abouttwenty-three days
to figure out.
Now, a lot of that I did at
home and so it was not like
I was working on it,
24 hours a day, some days it was only
a couple of hours, but all the tricks with the Rain X,
with the fridge, with the cricket saline.
These are not things that I knew about
ahead of time. There are things that
I just had to work out on the fly, through one
iteration after the next. And you figure out a problem,
or, you come across a problem you just have to
figure out a solution. The cricket’s too jumpy,
the worm’s freaking out, the water
doesn’t look right and you just have to take what,
what you’ve solved and build on that. And so there was a point
early on in the story where my editor, Todd
wanted to see my… my progress on
the story and… you know, he didn’t really
have time to look through all my pictures,
he wanted to send me– he wanted me to send him
a small selection. And really I wanted him to see
all my pictures because I wanted to show him all the
different variations I did. I assumed
he was going to tell me, oh, go back and shoot that
from another angle and I wanted to be
able to tell him, ‘look man,
I tried all the angles.’ So, but he asked for,
he asked for a limited selection and so I was scanning
through these pictures, it was late at night
I was listening to some electronic music
to keep me awake. And all of a sudden this,
this images on my screen started to sync up with the music
I was listening to and I had this idea that
‘wait a minute!’ If I can just take
all of these images and I can create
a stop motion by playing them all
at 15 frames a second. That way in five minutes Todd can see every image
I have taken and all the iterations
and variations I did in between
and I just threw the layer of music on top
just for, for kicks. By the end of the story
I had 33,000 pictures and even at
15 frames a second, that’s a very long video so I cut that down and
here is the edited version of that original… Dubstep parasite music video.
( laughter ) ( dubstep music ) ( applause ) ( outro music )