("Back Breaking Bug")

Written by Jonathan Wojcik, Researched and Translated by Rev Storm

This bug's name can also be read as "coward bug," which doesn't factor much into its description, but I'm sure it was intentional. You know how Japan loves its puns. It's said to "come flying out of nowhere with the vigor of a large dragonfly," but once inside the body, it flies around the lower back and wraps itself around the spine, constricting it like a snake. It then stings the spine with the barb on the end of its tail, resulting in a slipped disk!

Design Review:

I saved this one for nearly the end, but I'm not sure if anyone else considers it one of the scariest, spookiest or coolest. I guess for me personally, I think its resemblance to a googly-eyed butterfly kite with a long, winding spinal column is memorably ominous, the fact that it's one of the few flying bugs and the fact that it's a spinal parasite who just plain stings you in the vertebrae is all remarkably grotesque for such an arguably cute and kind of pretty one.

The closest real parasite we get to talk about is also sufficiently nasty.

Angiostrongylus cantonensis

This nematode worm is more commonly known as the Rat Lungworm, and it is in fact one of the only parasitic worms that commonly damages the brain and spine of human hosts. As its name implies however, it is not "naturally" a parasite of the human nervous system at all, but a parasite of rodent pulmonary arteries, and it isn't even rats that actually pass it on to us.

Instead, larvae depend upon terrestrial gastropods as intermediate hosts; slugs and snails that have consumed rat feces infected by the parasite's larvae. Another rodent is supposed to come by, prey upon the poor little mollusk and repeat the cycle over again, but us humans also happen to eat slugs and snails all around the world, and we also happen to eat a lot of things that slugs and snails might have been on. Under-cooked escargot is among the highest-risk meals, obviously, but the mucus trail of a single tiny, baby slug on a single, unwashed grape or lettuce leaf can be all it takes to get at least one larval lungworm into a human body.

As with many parasites, the little dears get kind of mixed-up when they find themselves in the human body. They're looking for the respiratory tract of a tiny rat, and instead they've found themselves in a gargantuan ape, and where they most often seem to end up is in the soft tissues of the brain and spinal cord. This obviously causes tissue damage right away as the worms dig their way in to search fruitlessly for their natural habitat, but further damage is done as dead, dying and decomposing worms trigger an inflammatory immune response and cause these tissues to swell within the limited confines of the brain and vertebrae, the condition we call meningitis. The most mild possible symptoms of this condition are simple stiffness of the back and neck, headache, fatigue, and an unpleasantly heightened sensitivity to external stimuli such as light and sound. Other symptoms however can include a tingling, numbing sensation throughout the body, bladder dysfunction, vertigo, blindness, localized or even full-body paralysis, excrutiating agony of the entire nervous system, coma, and death.

Human infection by Rat Lungworm was previously fairly rare to almost nonexistant in many parts of the world, such as the United States, but remember what we said about the lettuce leaf. Many "organic" dietary practices, the "farm-to-table" trend, and a general relaxation of food safety practices have lead to the number of cases steadily rising in recent years, with the most recent outbreak happening in Florida and another in Hawaii.