Nature be crazy. Case in point: The lancet river fluke, AKA Dicrocoelium dendriticum
This parasite is found all over the world and its life cycle is so crazy and so Rube Goldberg-esque that, after first hearing about them, one would be forgiven for assuming Dicrocoelium was not an actual living thing but rather the product of a science fiction novel. Here’s how this little bastard works:
Step one: Dicrocoelium eggs are eaten by snails. OK, not such a big deal. Parasites need hosts, after all. A snail is as good as any other. But it doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot.
Step two: Once inside the snail, the eggs hatch producing larvae that punch out of the snail’s guts and take up residence in its digestive track. The snail, for obvious reasons, wants these things gone and its body bundles them up in cysts and poops them out as the snail slimes along.
Step three: Here’s where it gets kinda nuts. The Dicrocoelium larvae, left behind in the snail track, wait until an ant comes along for a drink. Turns out, ants derive moisture from snail slime. Hey, an ant’s life, man. It’s not easy. So the ant can end up with hundreds of these things inside it. One little ant from one little snail cyst.
From there, the Dicrocoelium end up all over inside the ant’s body. Not to grow up and lay eggs so the whole thing can happen again. No. They can only do that in the guts of a ruminant (like a cow). While the rest of the Dicrocoelium hang out in whatever part of the ant they want, just one of them takes up the job of bus driver. This guy settles in a part of the ant’s nervous system and, from there, takes control of the ant. He’s now an undercover zombie. By day, a normal looking ant hanging out with the others. By night, river fluke pansy.
As I said, the Dicrocoelium can only fulfill their biological imperative of reproduction inside a ruminant. Once the sun sets, the bus driver instructs the ant to head to the nearest blade of grass and crawl all the way out to the end, grab hold of it with his mandibles, and wait. All night long. If nothing happens, when the sun comes up, the ant goes back to the colony. Why? Because it’s cool there and the Dicrocoelium will die if the ant’s body is warmed too much by the sun. Once night returns, it’s back to the grass blade.
Step four: Eventually, if the Dicrocoelium get lucky, an unsuspecting cow or sheep or llama comes along partaking in a midnight snack and eats the zombie ant along with the grass it’s clinging to. Once inside the cow or llama or whatever, they reach adulthood, get married and settle down and make their eggs. The llama or cow craps them out where some snail crawls along and finds them and the whole crazy thing starts all over again.
I tell you this story for two reasons. First is to illustrate how totally nuts nature is that such a complicated, illogical, implausible, and, if I’m honest, absolutely creepy form of life would evolve on planet Earth. Two is to tell you that the Bigfoot Forums is like that zombie ant.
What? No, really.
See, there are a subspecies of humans that thrive on sociopathic behavior. It’s a form of psychic sustenance for them much as llama blood is for Dicrocoelium. They revel in poking others with metaphorical sticks and seeing how they squirm and run around. They’ve always been among us, but the internet and the web in particular has given them the ability to multiply by the millions and achieve unprecedented efficiencies of success. We call them trolls.
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
Recently, I’ve decided to stop participating with the Bigfoot Forums due to it’s having been taken over by Dicrocoelium-esque invaders from beyond. “Beyond” in this case being the James Randi Educational Foundation Forums (JREF). There, you will find many people (hundreds?) who just love to sit around making fun of people who believe things the JREFers think are silly. Truth be told, many things many people think are silly, but I, like most normal non-troll people, don’t feel compelled to go find all the places these people hang out and tell them how silly they are. JREFers do.
And several of the worst, most disruptive Dicrocoeliumon the BFF are straight imports from the JREF. They go back to the mothership at night and slap each other on the back and yuck it up over the ants they’re able to rile up over on the BFF then fly off to do it again when the sun rises. These are not reasonable people. These are people who derive pleasure at the discomfort of others. Discomfort they inflict is best.
For those of you keeping score, you’ll know that I founded the original Bigfoot Forums back in 2002. I was always interested in having skeptical voices as part of that community but I never intended scofftical denialists to be welcome. If a person’s point of view is that bigfoot cannot be real and anyone who thinks it is cannot tell fact from fancy, they have no place in a community of bigfoot enthusiasts. That’s logic. On the other hand, if you have those who are interested in the subject, allow that the animal’s existence is at least possible (if not plausible), and are willing to entertain new evidence, then yeah. That’s healthy.
JREF members who post on the Bigfoot Forums are a disease to that community.
Those who administer and moderate the forum are no better than the zombie ant doing the Dicrocoelium’s evil bidding. They allow these trolls to live among them, derailing every conversation and thread, sending them all to the end of a blade of grass. The administrators act as though there is a universal right of participation there and fail to weigh the cost/benefit of allowing the troll’s disruptions to continue as some sort of feigned service to fairness and balance. They’ve allowed the forum to become an irrelevant shadow of what it once was.
But, to be fair, the Bigfoot Forums was destined to a certain irrelevancy. The web is an incredibly different place than it was in 2002. We have social networks now like Twitter and Facebook. We have podcasts and blogs. We have so many other places interested parties can congregate and have discussions. The world is spinning away from sites like the Bigfoot Forums. Unfortunately, those who run it are allowing others to spin it faster and further away from being a useful resource for enthusiasts. Now it’s just a catty clutch of nattering nabobs. The cream can never rise above the rest because it’s covered in bullshit.
At the end of the day, we’re left with an existential question for the Bigfoot Forums. What is its purpose? Is it to be a place for enthusiasts and other genuinely interested parties to gather and discuss the topic of bigfoot? Or is it to be a tool for sociopaths? A component in the pleasure delivery system for a subset of humanity that thrives on the misery of others.
I’m not part of answering that question anymore. I wonder if anyone over there is even asking it.
Continue reading: Points of clarification re: zombie ants