Written by 1LT Chris Post
One of the greatest determiners in how long the coming zombie plague will last is the lifespan of zombies themselves. In theory, the length of any outbreak will depend on how long individual zombies are capable of moving about and spreading their infection to new hosts.
Because zombies occupy a limited, rotting corpse, the real question then becomes: How long will it take for the zombie to decompose?
Decomposition is a process whereby plant and animal bodies are broken down into their base materials. The length of this process is affected by several factors, including:
- Presence of insects
- Microbial activity
- Moisture levels
I’ll focus on microbes and moisture in upcoming posts, but today I want to talk about insects.
Insects, specifically carrion feeders, play a vital role in decomposition, as they consume much of the flesh and soft tissue of a corpse. In fact, it has been documented that in some parts of the world dense insect populations are capable of reducing a body to bones in a matter of hours.
Assuming a zombified corpse is essentially the same as a standard corpse, insects would feed on the zombie’s flesh and organs, speeding up decomposition and reducing its lifespan. However, a few variables might play a part in mitigating this process:
- MOVEMENT: The zombies own movement might serve to keep some insects at bay. One need only observe the common housefly to see that they will retreat from the slightest wave of a hand.
- INEDIBILITY: Whatever causes the reanimation of the zombie corpse might render it inedible to insects. Without the assistance from insects, decomposition time could be extended significantly.
- PSEUDO-LIFE: Larval parasites, such as maggots, do not eat living flesh. Maggots have historically been used to clean wounds because they only eat dead tissue, leaving the living flesh intact. If zombies have some residual life functions, such as circulation or respiration, it might be sufficient to prevent the maggots and other similar parasites from consuming their flesh.
Look for more observations about zombie decay, including a detailed breakdown of how microbes and moisture could save the human race, in parts 2 and 3 of this series.
Lieutenant Post is a squadron safety officer with the United States Air Force Auxiliary. In addition to training in emergency response and disaster preparedness, he has studied the theory and science behind the zombie of popular culture for several years.