This female barnacle injects herself into crabs and takes over their bodies
Science is more horrifying and way grosser than anything you can ever imagine.
When I first learned about rhizocephalan barnacles I lost my appetite. I was taking a parasitology course, and even though I’d developed a thick skin, something about this insidious creature deeply disturbed me. Even now, the thought of one makes me shiver. I’ve never watched a movie monster, heard a fairy tail, or seen a video game with a villain more horrifying than this one. And unlike those monsters, this one is real. To understand the full terror of this monster, you have to put yourself in the place of another animal. This poor creature is its victim, and you see them all the time. Imagine you’re a crab, and for full effect, imagine you’re male.
You’re lingering on the shoreline, the warm sun on your back, cool water in your gills. You’re reached a large size, dodging the many dangers of youth. Life is going well. But today you begin to feel strange– maternal almost– as if there is something growing inside you, and in fact, something is.
Can you feel the roots of this monster creeping within? Illustrated by Haeckel. From Wikipedia Commons.
Can you feel her roots growing in your body? Illustrated by Haeckel. From Wikipedia Commons.
Its roots are crawling through your tissue, your gut, your brain. Its a rhizocephalan barnacle, and it’s about to take you over.
Your new tormenter is a member of one of the strangest groups of animals known. The adult female body of the rhizocephalan is twisted and deformed, not resembling in any way its barnacles cousins living on rocks near shore. She has lost her hard shell, her legs, her eyes, and transformed into sickly yellow roots and sinuous twisting filaments that are slowly grow like black mould through your tissues. But she looked normal once: when she was young. As a juvenile she looked like a normal barnacle larvae, only a few millimeters long. But her juvenile body had one terrible difference: her head was tipped with a needle protruding form her shell. When she found you, she used her body like a hypodermic syringe: stabbing you and injecting her own cells under your skin. All that’s left of her is now growing and spreading like a cancer through your system. You’ve stopped growing. Her fibrous tentacles are consuming your extra energy.
. . .