Zombie Mind Controlling Fungus taking over
The Ophiocardyceps unilateralis is a fungus that contains four distinct species, all of which can “mind control” ants and other insects. All four known fungi species live in Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest, which is rapidly changing due to climate change and deforestation, said study leader David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University.
“This potentially means thousands of zombie fungi in tropical forests across the globe await discovery,” he said. “We need to ramp up sampling—especially given the perilous state of the environment.”
Lodged in a zombie ant’s brain, the fungi species “direct” the dying ants to anchor themselves to leaves or other stable places,providing a stable “nursery” for the fungus. Once the insect dies, the fungus rapidly spreads through the body.
During later stages of Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis infection, the fungus rapidly consumes the nutrients inside a zombie ant and begins to colonize the outside of the ant’s body, as pictured bellow. The fungus stalk growing from the back of the head also becomes longer and more noticeable.
A wasp is infected by a Cordyceps fungus species that hasn’t yet been named or formally documented. Fungi of the Cordyceps genus are the products of a tightly evolved arms race between hosts and parasites, which means the fungi are often locked into one type of host—a specialization that might spell doom for fungi species as host species die out.
According to Hughs, “This is only the tip,” he said, “of what will be a very large iceberg.”
If you think about it, all it takes is for one of these host insects to crawl in your ear for you to become under control of a zombie fungus…think about that.