Zombie Fungus

While we’re talking about zombie-ish natural phenomena, let’s talk about cordyceps (chord-ee-seps). They are the coolest and most terrifying fungus I have ever heard of. I think of fungus as the friendly green stuff that eats my neglected bread. But they are so much more than that.

Cordyceps are much more aggressive than bread mold. This fungus infects living things–namely, insects. Spores get inside the body of, say, an ant, and grow and take over the ant’s body. What’s really amazing… and creepy… is that the fungus actually infects the brain of the ant and influences its behavior to its benefit. The fungus wants* to infect as many other ants as possible, so to increase its chances of spreading, it causes the ant to seek higher ground. I’m sorry, but I don’t know how it does this. It must produce some chemical that acts as a neurochemical in the ant’s brain. Perhaps it messes with the ant’s sense of what is up or down.

*When I say “wants,” I mean it in sort of a general sense. The fungus doesn’t “want” anything, really. It just has evolved traits that benefit its spread and continued survival.  

What I find even more amazing than this bizarre fungus’s ability to change ant behavior is that if another ant in the colony notices an ant who is infected with the fungus, the healthy ant carries the sick ant far, far away from the colony in hopes to stop the spread of the fungus. How on earth does the ant know to do that? People in zombie movies never know to do that:

“Oh, no. You were bitten by a zombie. That’s too bad. Oh, well. I’m sure you’ll be just fine. We won’t abandon our wounded. We’ll nurse you back to health and keep you around us in this confined space. Everything is going to be okay.”

~5 hours later~

“Yeesh, you look terrible. Your eyes look sort of vacant and lifeless. Hey, why’d you bite me?”

So it’s official: ants are smarter than people in zombie movies.

Enough of this.  You have to see it for yourself.

Share on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on TumblrTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone