Thursday, September 15, 2011

This 'n That Thursdays: Strange Fungi Create Zombie Ants

By David Hughes/National Geographic

Whoever came up with the saying "Truth is stranger than fiction" could have had this story in mind when doing so!  Apparently there are several species of fungi in the Brazilian rainforest which can infect an ant and control its behavior, causing the ant to climb to a spot favorable to fungal spore dispersal before killing their host.  Just before the ant is killed, the mind-controlling fungus forces the ant to bite down onto the site with such force that it is almost impossible to dislodge.  The ant body then serves as a convenient location for the fungus to grow and produce spores, with a fungal stalk beginning to protrude from the top of the ant's head about two days after death (above).  Ants who come near these infected corpses can become infected as well, either by touching the body or by an explosive release of spores by the fungus.

Other species of insects are also affected by mind-controlling fungi.  Here is a picture of a "zombie beetle" suffering the same fate:

By cotinis

These frightening fungi make my Terrifying Tuesdays movie selection for "Menacing Mushrooms Week" look tame by comparison -- I'll take mushroom people over zombifying fungi any day!

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