Video footage of a "zombie snail" taken over by a parasitic worm has gone viral. Watching the footage destroyed Hayden Donnell's faith in the divine.
The mystical traditions speak of God in everything. It’s a philosophy known as panentheism. In it the entire universe - from stardust to centipedes - is imbued with the divine breath that emanated out in the event we call the Big Bang.
It’s a lovely philosophy; one which imbues life with layers of beauty and meaning. It helped me when the Evangelical Christian faith I inherited as a child unravelled dramatically at the first hint of scrutiny.
Unfortunately it’s total bullshit. No number of meaningful visions experienced by meditating monks can account for the abomination that is this zombie snail I saw recently on Twitter.
This zombie snail. A parasitic worm Leucochloridium has taken over its motor functions and eye stalks, making them into caterpillar mimics so birds will eat them. The worm can then reproduce in the bird's GI tract, eventually transmitting via its faeces 🤯 https://t.co/mP8IrGh21L pic.twitter.com/C2xc83oU54— Mike Inouye (@minouye271) August 12, 2019
Of course, I knew about the existence of suffering before I saw the zombie snail. I’d seen cruelty and experienced the deaths of loved ones. But something about the snail’s plight seemed too cruel to exist in a universe of meaning. Any god who exists inside the zombie snail and its parasitic passenger is a god of sharp teeth and monsters, of screams in the night and gurgling blood.
Maybe it’s the way the possessed snail’s eye stalks dance in rainbow technicolour. On a scientific level, the colourful stalks are “caterpillar mimics” designed to attract birds. Once swallowed, the parasitic worm Leucochloridium will reproduce inside their avine guts and be passed on as faeces.
On an existential level, the rainbow eyes are a sick joke. The snail’s final paroxysm of agony is lit up like a shopfront neon sign. Its horrifying death comes in the colours of a candy cane given out to a child on Christmas.
Maybe it’s the enmeshment of two souls in this dance of death. Where did the snail’s life end? Was it when the worm took over its last brain cell, or some undefinable point before when it became more parasite than snail? Most things have a definable end. They are, and then they aren’t. The snail is merely transformed from happy slug, to glowing horror, to parasitic faeces.
Maybe it’s the way the snail's slimy skin is all gross and translucent.
Biologists are used to nature’s nihilism. David Attenborough once said he could not believe in God because of the existence of worms that blind children in West Africa. The snail tweeter, computational biologist Mike Inouye, probably thought nothing of posting his 31-second video. He didn’t care about the snail’s terrors, accustomed as he is to the world’s ambivalence. To him, the snail was a curiosity. To me, it was a terror I couldn’t shake off. I needed my hope back. I needed to live in a world with some semblance of meaning. I needed the snail to go away.
At the time of writing, my request for Mike Inouye to delete his tweet showing the zombie snail has received 234 “likes” and 5 “retweets”.
Please delete this— Hayden Donnell (@HaydenDonnell) August 13, 2019