Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Worm to Turn (Heads)

What's with the ridiculously contrived title? Today, looking at a textbook sine wave, I was taken back to an incident...

It's a cockroach. It's in the middle of the brightest room in the building, wandering around in the light feet away from the nearest cover. Hardly appropriate cockroach behavior.
Aren't these things supposed to run from light? Hug the wall? Hide in massive shadows?
This is one certifiable cockroach.

I was lying in a bathtub when I saw this, soaking away the grime of a day of healthy work. I picked up what was probably a shampoo bottle and let the roach have it. His end came with a rather satisfying crunch for a soundtrack. No twitching. Hmm. And he felt kind of hollow on impact...

Then, a thread—no, more like a rather thick hair—rises in eerie slow-motion from the wreckage.
The hair, once fully out of the roach's body, measures a number of inches. It has the dull-yet-almost-shiny texture of raw, hard spaghetti, but is dark brown in color. And it moves as a sine wave.
The base of the wave rests on the tile floor, balancing the crests half-an-inch or more in the air. The movement itself is barely perceived as such. Rather, the rear of the wave just disappears as the same length is added to the front. The front seeming to be a round mouth-like-thing, like the end of a drinking straw.

This—this thing seemed more imaginary than real. What was I seeing? Whatever it was, it had to die. Smashing it didn't seem advisable under the circumstances, though.
Images of this inescapably parasitic evil inserting itself into my bare foot and weaving it's way through my body... I am not "grossed out" easily, but this was a highly unpleasant line of thought. I was going to off this hideous creature.

From underneath the sink I pulled a squirt bottle of 409 (marvellous for cleaning bathrooms) and a huge jug of pourable Lysol. One of these would kill this thing, surely.

Squirting 409 on it didn't seem to have any great effect (probably I just didn't watch long enough) so I poured on the other.
{TAKE NOTE: Never mix cleaning solutions! You don't know how they will react, as they may potentially create deadly clouds of gas and/or explode.}
Now something started to happen. Perhaps chemical warfare wasn't the best course of action. Whether it was or no, I sat and watched the abomination weave agonizingly as it died, finally coiling up into a little lifeless ring.

So what was it? No it was not the product of a brain tumor. But it does have to do with a brain disorder of sorts. No, not mine. Sheesh. The “thing” was quite real. The brain trouble was the cockroach's.

Previously unnamed here, the outlandish hair-thingy is officially Spinochordodes tellinii. A variant of the nematomorph or horsehair worm. It is a parasite, but hardly an orthodox one. This little outrage, after making it's way into it's hosts body (which it proceeds to eat until adulthood) punches part of itself (that round sharp mouth, perhaps?) into the host's brain. Into this brain it begins to secret proteins which control the host's actions for the rest of its existence.

That existence comes to a fairly sudden halt when the worm turns its host toward the water and makes it jump in. The host drowns and the now-mature nematomorph swims away to find a mate. It's offspring will then somehow end up in the innards of another host (a cricket, grasshopper, etc.) where it will mature until returning to it's aquatic lifestyle to spawn.

Fascinating are the memories a simple graphed wave can evoke, eh?


arson51 said...

I normally hate blogs, but I found this site while doing a search for zoology, and I really liked your account of the parasite. Amazing that nature can inspire more shivers than the alien series :D.

M. Randolph said...

Thanks for the kind words! Always happy to know my musings on the obscure are enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

the fact that the cockroach felt hollow is very interesting

M. Randolph said...

Indeed. I've often contemplated just how much (not to mention what) cute little Spino was able to eat without rendering the roach useless for his own purposes.