Uncle Art's fun fact: Did you know that parasites make up a majority of species on this planet? That's right, an absolute majority. They could vote us out if they wanted. So let's show some respect for our hitchhiking friends. And you squeamish readers who've complained that the Schopenhauer Awards spend too much time on parasites can just shut your elitist traps. We're just trying to give Spaceship Earth's silent, slimy majority some of the credit they deserve.
This week we salute one of the few parasites who's managed to become a star in his own right. This whimsical little fellow answers to the jaw-breaking moniker "dicrocoelium dendriticum," but he's better known for his elaborate reproduction number. You may have heard of him as the guy who invented that wild snail-to-ant-to-sheep routine. You see, D. D. is one of those ambitious parasites who aren't content to hatch, lay eggs and die in one boring host organism. He's a traveler, an ambitious fellow who won't settle for anything less than premium tour packages. For him to produce the next generation of little D.D.s, this ambitious little fluke has to pass through half the zoo!
Let's zoom in on a lovely field of grass. As we move closer, we see that the ground is covered with thousands of little eggs. These are the cute little newborn liver flukes, just waiting for a host organism to give them a ride on their way to bigger things. And who do they count on for that ride? The humble snail. Now it might seem "yucky" to you, but the little flukes look forward to being sucked up by hungry snails.
They don't need to worry about ending up as snail food, because the snails can't digest the little flukes' tough egg sacs. The eggs slide right through yucky Mister Snail and end up in the snail's excrement, waiting for a transfer to their next host, the hardworking ant.
You see, ants have a real taste for snail excrement, and the little flukes need to get into an ant's gut to reach their dreams. So they let themselves get swallowed by the ant, then go to work. Pop! go the all the thousands of little flukes once they're in the ant's guts. Then they get their little teeth going, chewing and chewing until they've chewed their way right out onto the ant's exoskeleton.
Of course, the ant doesn't think it's much fun to feel all the little flukes' sharp puppy teeth chewing through his stomach. In fact, all those holes would kill the poor ant -- but the baby flukes have thought of everything. As soon as they've chewed their way out, they turn right around and patch up the holes they chewed.
It's not that the little baby flukes feel sorry for Mister Ant. No, they just need him alive a little bit longer, because they're going to use him as their getaway car in the next stage of their cruise to the top.
This is the wildest stage of the whole caper. You see, while hundreds and hundreds of little flukes are chewing through Mister Ant, one little fluke -- just one, who's elected by the whole bunch -- gets the important job of chewing his way up into Mister Ant's little brain. This little secret-agent fluke has a mission: he's got to chew up part of the ant-brain. All the other little flukes, waiting on the ant's belly, are depending on this one special friend.
When the little lobotomy is completed, the ant turns into nothing but a fluke limo! He climbs up to the top of the nearest blade of grass and clamps on to it, steered by the fluke in his brain. That's the end of the line for Mister Ant, but the start of a great time for all the little flukes. They're listening for their next helper, the silly old sheep!
The flukes need this silly, shaggy sheep because they can only lay their eggs in a sheep's intestine. So they wait until they hear the CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP noise that says the sheep is coming. Then they close their eyes, and when they wake up they're right where they always wanted to be, down there in a nice warm sheep stomach, where they get down to work mating and producing thousands and thousands of little fluke eggs.