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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Zombie Fungus

It’s Halloween! And keeping to the spooky theme of today (and maybe 2020?), let’s talk about zombies. I know I already did a post about zombie elephants. But today I want to talk about something smaller and even spookier!

Zombie-ant fungus, or “Ophiocordyceps unilateralis” to be more specific. This creepy fungus lives in tropical areas like Brazil and makes its home in the jungle on leaves that hang precisely 25cm from the ground.

The fungus releases spores from its position on the leaf, generally above a carpenter-ant colony. These spores then infect the ants below and turn them into zombies! The fungus grows inside the ant’s body, using up its nutrients and controlling their brain. Over a week, the fungus tells the ant to climb up into the overhanging leaves (25cm up!), where the temperature and humidity are perfect for fungal growth. Once there, the fungus forces the ant to bite down on the leaf permanently. After 3 weeks, the fungus sprouts out from the ant’s head and releases its spores to repeat the cycle with the ants below.

This is not an isolated method of fungal reproduction! The fungus family that “Ophiocordyceps unilateralis” belongs to has over 600 different species that infect different insects worldwide! From larvae to wasps to spiders, no creepy-crawly is safe!

Check out this video from National Geographic to see what it looks like!

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