The fungus hijacks the bodies of ants, turning them into your puppet – this phenomenon has been known for a long time. In the new study, scientists have gained more understanding of how the fungus turns insects into zombies.
It turned out that the fungus of the genus corridas “bypasses” the brain, capturing the body of the ants. Spores attach to the ant, and germinate and spread through the host body long whiskers, called mycelium. Cordyceps, in fact, transforms his master into a slave zombie, forcing the ant to climb to the top of the nearest plant and squeeze a tiny jaw death grip around the leaf or branch. Then the fungus slowly eats away at the ant, sprouting through his head after bulbous growths at the tips of the mycelium burst, releasing into the air even more dispute. The whole process can take from 4 to 14 days.
There are over 400 different species of fungi of Cordyceps, each targeting a certain type of insects, whether ants, dragonflies, cockroaches, aphids or beetles. David Hughes, an entomologist at the University of Pennsylvania, for many years studied the fascinating relationship between ants, the carpenters and their parasitic partner Ophiocordyceps unatellis, hoping to learn more about how the fungus controls of his doomed master.
The experiment showed that fungal cells do not penetrate into the brain of an ant, affecting only the body. Moreover, fungal cells form a complex, interconnected three-dimensional network, allowing them to communicate with each other and share nutrients. They essentially cut off the brain from the rest of the body of an ant, so the network of cells can control his behavior.