‘Zombie snail’ with flashing ‘neon’ eye stalks freaks out hiker

Nature can be so beautiful — yet so cruel.

This disco ball of a snail may look like he’s having a good time, but sadly he’s living his worst nightmare — having his body hijacked by an insidious parasite.

The colorful gastropod caught the eye of hiker Lin Ruian, who spotted the “zombie” creature with “flashing lights” dragging itself across a hillside in Taiwan’s Changhua County earlier this month.

“The snail looked like it had multicoloured neon lights inside,” the confused tourist tells Viral Press. “I don’t know what was causing it but it was very strange. I poked it with a stick and it rolled over.”

According to biologists, Succinea (amber snails) are often hosts to this parasitic flatworm, called green-banded broodsac, or leucochloridium paradoxum. The worm seizes the motor neurons in the land mollusk’s eye stalks and induces the green, orange and red pulsating pattern.

All part of the parasite’s ingenious plan, the “zombie snail” thereby mimics a caterpillar to hungry birds flying by, who will snatch up the snack and provide the flatworm with a cozy intestinal tract in which to reproduce.

In zoological terms, this is called aggressive mimicry. The leucochloridium paradoxum was first described by biologist Tomasz Wesołowski of Poland’s Wrocław University in 2013. He observed that infected snails behaved extraordinarily, both able to move three times as fast as they usually can, and seemingly intentionally putting themselves in harm’s way, “on the upper parts of plants and higher elevated places … [making] them easier to be spotted by foraging birds,” says Wesołowski.

Incredibly, snails survive this ordeal thanks to their regeneration abilities. The Leucochloridium develops mostly in the snail’s eyestalk, which is the only part that birds will typically go for since it’s the portion that most resembles a caterpillar. (They’ll pass on the shell, thanks.) The pitiful host will then grow a new stalk and eye spot, and, perhaps later, begin the whole horror story over again.

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