There are dog people and there are cat people. Just a preference, right? Wrong. There is evidence to suggest that cat lovers don’t really love their cats as much as they think they do, that in fact they’re being controlled by a horrific parasite that needs cats to survive…
Today I’m talking about monsters. In the past, I’ve talked about cryptozoological monsters, those creatures that are the stuff of legend, myth and rumour. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Trunko, the Montauk Monster…
The funny thing is, the scariest monsters are the ones that actually exist.
Enter Toxoplasma gondii, probably the most famous and most controversial neurological parasite. When you think about it, all parasites are pretty monstrous. The fact that their entire lifecycle depends on slowly sucking the life out of other creatures—their hosts—is both nightmarish and one of evolution’s curiosities. This microscopic protozoan basically looks like a blob, but don’t let that fool you. T. gondii has some rather frightening abilities.
It starts its life in cat faeces, where its eggs lie in wait to be picked up by carriers like rats. Once the eggs are safe and warm in the guts of their temporary rodent hosts, the next stage of T. gondii’s lifecycle begins. The eggs transform into tachyzoites, which then migrate to the rats’ muscles, eyes and brains.
But T. gondii needs to reproduce. And strangely there is only one animal in which the parasite is able to undergo sexual reproduction. Cats. In order to lay more eggs, the tachyzoites need to find their way into the bodies of our unassuming pets.
The problem is, rats aren’t totally stupid. They’ll tend to shy away from areas where cats live, because they know they’ll get chased and killed and eaten. When they do come across cats, they’re generally quite good at escaping them.
So what is T. gondii to do? It’ll have to resort to some mind control, of course.