The Web of Life (47-3) Fungal Voices

 Fungal Voices

For something with no discernable intellect, some fungi possess considerable capacity to affect the minds of others.

 Death Grip

This is a microbe controlling an animal – the one without the brain controls the one with the brain. ~ American entomologist David Hughes

The fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects carpenter ants. At the end of its life cycle, the fungus causes full body convolutions in an infected arboreal carpenter ant that sends the ant to the forest floor.

The fungus then induces the ant to climb a plant to a particular place favorable to the fungus. The ant positions itself on the underside of a low-hanging leaf, then makes one last powerful bite that holds it in place.

After planting its mandibles, the ant expires.

O. unilateralis then grows a spore-bearing stalk out of the ant’s neck. After 4–10 days preparation, this fruiting body then releases its spores.

O. unilateralis has an exceptional practice of mind control in inducing numerous specific behaviors in car-penter ants.

An infected ant found in the nest would be immediately removed. So, the fungus marches an infected ant away from the colony, but into the path of foragers; a sniper’s alley for future hosts.

The fungus is also smart enough to stick to its core competency. While O. unilateralis may infect other ants, it does not attempt to turn them into zombies.

The fungus produces a specific array of compounds as a reaction to the presence of the host brain it has evolved to manipulate. ~ American entomologist Charissa de Bekker et al