Mind Controlling Fungi - Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant's head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

The tropical fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects ants’ central nervous systems. When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, they have complete control over the host’s movements. It compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf.

Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

Source : How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds

Pic Credits : David P. Hughes, Maj-Britt Pontoppidan, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Aseem Shrey

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