Monster of the Week: Blade the Dhampir and Slime Mites

Blade does his thing... New Line Cinema

Blade the vampire slayer knows his parasitic adversaries. The man’s half vampire himself, so the legacy of vampirism flows through his veins -- yet he devotes his life to the eradication of humanity’s secretive undead enemies. Go figure.

It brings to mind another organism, itself cousin to parasitic chigger mites and blood-drinking ticks: the slime mite Histiostoma. You can consider this tiny arachnid the termite world’s day-walking savior -- an outsider, but a protector who puts dangerous interlopers to the sword.

See, the eastern subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes doesn't have to contend with vampires, but it IS plagued by the pathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. As Bill Schutt explains in his book “Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures,” The fungus kills an infected termite with secreted toxins and then feeds on the cadaver’s nutrients. A fungal growth finally erupts from the body and spreads more deadly spores. Humans even use the fungus an anti-termite bioweapon.

But that’s where the slime mite enters the picture. Just as Blade stakes vampires in human cities, so too does the slime mite consume the deadly fungus. Plus, in its wake, the slime mite spreads a cocktail of nonlethal decomposer microbes that compete with Metarhizium anisopliae and suppresses its growth. I think the day walker, who tends to salt the vampiric Earth with high-tech UV gadgetry, would approve.

Granted, the fungal villains don’t give up so easily. To paraphrase Blade himself, “Some Metarhizium anisopliae are always trying to ice skate uphill.”

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.