Elements of Zombie Decay (Part 1)


 [re-blogged from Zombie Research Society]

Written by 1LT Chris Post [1]

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:

  1. Presence of insects
  2. Microbial activity
  3. 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.



[1] 1st 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.

Note: I am a lifetime member of the Zombie Research Society.


3 comments on “Elements of Zombie Decay (Part 1)

  1. Jazz says:

    Huh. Never thought of that while reading the Walking Dead. They gotta “die” sometime.

    • vampyrefangs says:

      The big question is their rate of decomposition once ‘dead.’ If they decomposed like normal human corpses, all we’d have to do is lock ourselves in our houses for a week or two, let the dogs, crows and maggots get at them, and then walk out into a zombie-free world. Something slows down the rate of decomposition. The virus (or whatever it is) keeps out the microbes and parasites that aid normal decomposition and in effect ’embalms’ the corpse, allowing the reanimated ghoul to walk around for a long time. Spooky stuff, no doubt! 🙂

  2. nightgaunt49 says:

    In Day of the Dead Dr. “Frankenstein” said that once a corpse is reanimated the decay mostly stops or slows down significantly. Depending on the condition of the body reanimated also. My contention is that the reason why they feed is that their infectious host needs more fresh tissues. It keeps them going. I wonder if over time they might build up tissues? I also suggested that once they are infected and fully takes over the organisms themselves secrete as substance that preserves the bodies. Why you never see them decaying to jelly as in a normal corpse.

    What if after a time the corpses have a metamorphosis and what comes out is moist, strong, fast and many times more deadly than before? A fully altered host body. (Read Mr.Kim Newman’s short story “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue or: Children of Marx and Coca Cola” in the “The Dead That Walk” set of stories. His is among the weirdest and scariest of the stories.)

    We have also been shown that corpses that have been prepared for burial can be reanimated too even with the caustic formaldehyde in them.

    Now not all flesh eating reanimated dead are the same. Just look at “Herbert West Reanimator” the original stories and the three movies. (I haven’t seen the last one yet.)

    Reanimation can happen with energy, viruses, chemicals and parasites like the xenoform had nesting weapon ones in the great “Night of the Creeps.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s