Tag Archive: Nature

Zombie Fungus

The parasitic Cordyceps fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) employs mind control in order to reproduce. It drives its spores into an ant’s trachea and feeds off the soft tissue and non-vital organs, and when the fungus is ready to reproduce, it secretes chemicals into the ant’s brain, manipulating the insect into climbing atop a plant. The ant uses its mandibles to attach itself in a so-called “death grip”—which has been found on leaf fossils dating back 48 million years—and the fungus then devours the ant’s brain and sprouts a mushroom in its head. Once it matures a month later, it releases its spores into the environment to begin the cycle again. The Cordyceps can’t completely decimate an ant colony because it’s actually parasitized by another fungus, limiting its ability to reproduce and allowing the Cordyceps and the ants to co-exist. There are four fungus species known to do this, all native to Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest, and it’s possible that each species is adapted to attack its own species of insect. It’s almost the stuff of sci-fi.


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