The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus aka zombie fungus, infects ants and takes over their bodies. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are more disturbing and intriguing ways it infects the hosts. This article will focus mostly on the infection of ants.
The Who and What
The fungi spreads onto insects, most preferably carpenter ants. An ant would normally be crawling on the forest floor and then it would absorb, inhale, or ingest the spore.
Located in moist, tropical areas such as Brazil, this fungus thrives and is usually encountered on the forest floor or precisely 25 centimeters off of the forest floor, hanging off the underside of a leaf, the place where it has the best infection and manipulations, for a better grip the ant usually bites into the central vein of the leaf. Then it would get a death grip with its mandibles, the grip is so hard that the ants head would be ripped off and it still would be hanging on the leaf
The stages of the fungus growth is very unique, a spore from an already infected ant from high above the colony will begin to infect an ant. The spore will start to grow and expand, eventually tapping into the nervous system and into the brain, the spore does not care if it was inhaled, ingested, or the spore just dropped onto the ant. Usually by this time, white spots or orange spots will appear on the ant, the ants in the colony will banish the infected ant and lock it outside. The ant will later display fatigue due to the fungus using the nutrients to grow inside of the ants body. The ant will later turn brown due to the fungus under the exo-skeleton and die. The fungus now has full control over the body and for some ways that are unknown to science, the fungus will make the ants body climb onto a bush, shrub, or tree 25 centimeters above the colony so it can begin infection more ants and releasing spores, the cycle will repeat again and again until all of the infected ants are removed from the area or the ant colony is killed off.
Fungi are parasitic, they will do anything to expand their species and grow. Even if that means infecting insects into zombie like creatures they will do so. Other species of fungi are known to turn entire tree colonies into fungi heaven by wiring all the roots together, and gaining nutrients from other trees. Some other species of fungi are so desperate to spread that they could kill themselves in order to grow at least 2 fungi.
Not much is known about how this horrible infection works, but what scientists did manage do find is that the ascoma (roots) of the fungi control the limbs and parts of the head such as mandibles. The roots will tighten, squeezing the mandibles closed so tightly onto the leaf it is hanging from that the head would actually fall off if attempting to remove the ant. The fungi would then push spores through the ants mouth and onto the leaf, one by one the spores would fall off and float down infecting other ants. Sometimes the big root that grows out of the ants neck aims and launches spores where the ant colony is, a truly intelligent organism.
Recently, the fungi have been infecting other insect species, this time with flying insects! The amount of intelligence the fungus must have is incredible. The way it learns the knowledge of insects and how their body works, then spreading that information to the other fungus is very disturbing. Cicadas this time can infect more and last longer, though the fungus is not used to flying insects yet, it will choose ants unless there is none nearby. The fungi went in a dormant mode in around 2017-2020, though there might be a pattern of the fungi spreading and growth rate, this just goes to shows you that 2020 is not a good year, especially since this fungi is now spreading all over America. Hopefully scientists and reduce or kill off this fungi before it spreads all over the world, crawling with zombie bugs.