Necromancy Power over 9000
Scientists recently discovered something that was causing European gypsy moth caterpillars to behave very strangely. The caterpillars were infected by a deadly baculovirus, and with their last bits of strength, they did something that would be out of the question if they were healthy: they climbed out onto the very highest leaves of their tree in the middle of the day.
There, their diseased bodies split open, raining infected caterpillar guts onto the leaves and branches below. The death ritual is so bizarre, that scientists started using the term ”tree top disease” to describe the virus that caused it.
In a recent issue of Science magazine, researchers reveal the cause of this odd final act: a specific viral gene that drives infected caterpillars to die in a way that offers the best potential for spreading the virus that killed it…just like a zombie (ScienceDaily).
The virus “ends up using just about all of the caterpillar to make more virus, and there are other genes in the virus that then make the caterpillar melt. So it becomes a pool of millions of virus particles that end up dropping onto the foliage below where it can infect other moths that eat those leaves,” study co-author Kelli Hoover told National Geographic.
Scientists have found the gene that drives a virus to kill gypsy moth caterpillars in a particularly gruesome way. The virus forces the caterpillars up to the tops of trees, where they melt and rain down virus onto the leaves below.