7 Times Zombies Were Real

7 Times Zombies Were Real October 30, 2019

The zombie apocalypse theme seems to be roused from the dead repeatedly in pop culture, and I think the reason why it just won’t die is that it feels possible. It haunts us so relentlessly because a pandemic that causes widespread brain damage is not entirely unlikely. It could be caused by illness. A new, wildly abused drug could cause it. It could be a parasite. It’s just not unimaginable that sufferers of such an epidemic could become wandering, ravenous drool machines, not unlike your classic biter. 

When I asked you on Twitter why you think we are so fascinated by the idea of a zombie apocalypse, you came up with some other answers that I believe also play a part in it. Some said it’s a way to explore our discomfort with the finality of death; others said it’s symbolic of dealing with unfinished business after we’re dead. There was also the suggestion that we are just generally preoccupied with our mortality and another that the zombie apocalypse trope allows us to play in a lawless universe. 

I think these are all excellent answers and they probably all play a part in why we keep reanimating this theme. I believe, though, that one of the biggest reasons is that there’s a deep, dark corner of our mind that thinks it’s possible. It’s the same reason why fans of Star Trek are so enthusiastic: it feels like it could be possible. Albeit, the Star Trek version is a far more bright and hopeful future than the version in which Michonne gets to julienne walkers with a katana, but it’s the same idea. We can see some version of this laying ahead for us. 

Now, before you get your rational-thinking, skeptic panties in a bunch and tell me I’m full of it for thinking that zombies are possible, I want to remind you that they’ve already happened. 

That’s right, Mr. Doubty-Pants, zombies are already flipping real

Don’t believe me? Well, strap on your shittin’ pants, as Negan would say because here are seven ways zombies are real: 

Zombie carpenter ants – these ants have had their bodies taken over by Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus that takes control of the ant’s mind. Once infected, the ant is ultimately dead. The fungus is in the driver’s seat and forces the ant to cling to the underside of a leaf until a long stalk grows out of the ant’s head. The fungal stalk is capped with a spore-filled bulb that eventually bursts, sending its spores off to infect new ants. Yeah dudes, it’s pretty gross. I don’t even think Daryl Dixon would have the stomach for that.

Zombie rats – Listen, you’re going to want to get your lunch out of the way before you read this one because it’s going to mess up your appetite for a bit. So there’s this parasite, toxoplasma, and it needs to find its way into a cat’s digestive system to make babies. There are many ways a parasite could find its way into a cat’s digestive system, right? But this is God’s perfect creation, so the route toxoplasma takes is more twisted than a Twinkie-starved Tallahassee. How it works is, the parasite infects a rat. It then hijacks the rat’s brain, eliminating its fear of the smell of cat urine and replacing it with sexual arousal. Yes, that’s right. This zombie parasite makes rats sexually attracted to cat pee. Of course, this makes the rat more likely to be caught and consumed by a cat, where the parasite finds its final destination, in the cozy, welcoming cat belly. 

Zombie spiders – I’m not crying as I type, I swear to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So, parasitic wasps are a thing. The worst part is that they take over the bodies and minds of spiders. Scientists are unsure how as yet, but it’s probably a neurotoxin. The explanation is irrelevant. The point is that parasitic wasps are turning spiders into zombies. Because zombies alone aren’t scary enough, right? Effffffff.

Zombie crickets – nematomorphs are everywhere, I’ve learned. In my dog’s bowl, maybe. They could be in your toilet. They’re found frequently on farms and ranches in places where water collects. These god-forsaken worms grow inside of crickets and when it’s time to be free, they take over the brain of the worm, force it to go for a dip in the nearest H2O and wiggle their way out of the creature. You’d think the cricket would die afterwards, but miracle of all miracles, these emotionally wounded musicians can sometimes live on.  

Zombie fish – these fish are infected with a parasitic worm called a fluke that takes control of the little fishy mind. It stops the fish from fearing the water surface, which makes it more likely that little Billy cutie-fin gets gobbled up by a bird. 

Klüver–Bucy syndrome – this is a human affliction caused by brain damage and sees the sufferer behaving in ways that appear zombie-like. According to Wikipedia, people with this syndrome experience “compulsive eating, hypersexuality, insertion of inappropriate objects in the mouth, visual agnosia, and docility”. Imagine a pandemic that caused brain damage that resulted in Klüver–Bucy syndrome. Just think about that. 

Encephalitis lethargica – Encephalitis lethargica is associated with extreme lethargy and delayed responses in humans. It can also result in psychosis. Get this, though. In 1917, there was a global epidemic of encephalitis lethargica that lasted until around 1928. It is uncommon now, but they still don’t know what causes it. What if the pandemic happens again? 

There they are. Seven real ways we get zombies in the present world. I realize none of these involves the reanimation of dead flesh but are any of these things all that different? The bottom line here is the taking over of the mind – that’s when our lives are no longer ours. That’s when we are, essentially, the Walking Dead. 

I dunno about you guys, but I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight. Let me know in the comments why you think the zombie apocalypse trope prevails in pop culture. And don’t forget to double-tap. 

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  • Polytropos

    The bottom line here is the taking over of the mind – that’s when our lives are no longer ours. That’s when we are, essentially, the Walking Dead.

    For me, this is what’s so fascinating about zombies. They’re a way to explore our fears about not being in control of our lives. That s&#8203h&#8203it’s scary!

  • Jim Jones


    Search for invasion of the brain snatchers

    BTW, it could be argued that atheists have had their brains infected to make them too brave.

    Here’s the whole documentary:


  • Jim Jones

    Even the tongue is bad.

    Cymothoa exigua

  • Polytropos

    On that theme, have you ever read the Charles Stross novel The Apocalypse Codex? It features televangelists and other parasites.

  • persephone

    You left out the worst spider zombie part: the wasps lay their eggs on the spider, so the spider acts as a living incubator, then as food when the wasp eggs hatch, all while still being alive.

    This is why paralysis and comas freak me out.

  • Yeah, we’re forked.

  • The worst thing about c. exigua is that it’s almost kinda cute. For a tongue-replacing parasite.

  • Brian Gregory Lopez

    I’m at a point in life where a zombie apocalypse doesn’t sound too shocking. Zombie pandemic, space alien invasion, to even the asteroid Apophis hitting Earth in 2029, we could be fucked dead any day. If I’m fortunate enough to get a heads up, shit, I’m putting a pause on my permanent sobriety, cracking open my reserved bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue with the girlfriend, toast friends, my doggo, family, and get in a last kiss to my David Bowie/Iggy Pop playlist. Cheers, mate, be gentle on the brain munching, eh?

  • WallofSleep

    Speak for yourself. When it comes to surviving the zombie apocalypse, for me the hardest part will be trying to pretend like I’m not having fun.

  • Spiders as far as I know are just paralyzed by those wasps and sealed in chambers where as others have noted below things go in Alien fashion.

    There’s a species that mind controls cockroaches, nullyfing their flee response, that end in a similar way: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_cockroach_wasp

  • Illithid

    Do you mean “brave enough to be open about disbelief”? ‘Cause it’s not really that bad in a lot of cases these days. Or “brave enough not to need a comforting myth”? Maybe I’m a callous bastich, but I’ve often felt a bit of contempt for people who just can’t face the horrid truth that they’re not eternal.

  • Jim Jones

    Worst. Horror. Movie. Ever.

  • Jim Jones

    I wonder how many people would go on if they did live forever. Even with a star ship, solar systems are a long commute.

    We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones

  • Illithid

    As with great wealth, I’d like to find out how well I’d tolerate immortality. I think I’d be okay at it. But I’ll count myself lucky if I see another 5 decades and can still function mentally. Heck, I should count myself pretty lucky already, as Dawkins points out.

  • Oh, you’ve seen “The Bay”?

  • Meh, I’m just hoping to make it to 60 with my mind intact — then I’m opting out on my own terms while I’m still “with it”.

  • It’ll be fun for a while, sure, but, uh… dude. The only thing I can think of that’s worse to deal with than living masses of humanity is undead masses of humanity The former can be given a firm “fork off” and mostly avoided without much effort. The latter, not so much.

    Also, are we talking fast zombies or slow zombies?

  • Drat

    Says the video is not available.

  • Jim Jones

    I’m in Canada. You may need a VPN to access it from outside of us.

  • Ruediger

    Concerning the encephalitis lethargica zombies, have look at this site: https://sites.google.com/site/elandemr/home

    which presents a REALLY scaring explanation for the epidemic … because the epidemic never really stopped and is going on NOW on a slow pace.

  • WallofSleep

    “Also, are we talking fast zombies or slow zombies?”

    I’m good with either, really. The thing that’s actually gonna ruin me for any apocalypse is the increasing scarcity of coffee. Eventually someone is gonna see my uncaffeinated shambling and mistake me for a zombie.

  • Jim Jones

    There was one I always wanted to put on Laura Bush’s car. Except for the Secret Service beatings.


    Who knew the GOP would come up with anyone more stupid than Shrub?

  • Jim Baerg

    I would include rabies as another case.

  • persephone

    I had Jaffa cakes ages ago as a kid. Probably an American company’s version of them, but I liked them very much.

    They did end up making Jaffa cakes on GBBO one season.

  • David Peebles

    I’m planning to befriend a veterinarian with flexible ethics. If you’ve ever had to put down your dog, you know what a simple, drama-free way that is to go (extremely sad, but best for the dog, as in “least cruel.”

  • ChickenFairie

    At 64 and experiencing more fibro fog than I’m comfortable admitting, I agree.

  • Jezebel’sOlderSister

    And here I was going to go for a far more philosophic answer — We do have mindless zombies around us, those who have surrendered all critical thinking to leaders/celebrates/influencers.

  • The “Dumb-phone Zombies” are already upon us. Walking, or staggering, along oblivious to their surroundings, while presenting a danger to both themselves and to anyone else nearby.


  • The PoGo players are the worst.