Scary Fungus Controls the Minds of Insects

Dried up Cordyceps Sinensis fungusEver heard of Cordyceps fungus? It’s a fungus that attacks insects, infiltrating their body and brain — driving them mad. Eventually, it kills the insect, eats it and then violently breaks through its body near the head in tentacle forms, dispersing spores to infect any other insects that dare come close.

My buddy John posted the scoop on this one over at One Man’s Blog — it’s interesting in so many ways. This fungus takes control of rudimentary motor functions, disorienting the insects and forcing them to walk upwards — like a puppet master. Another interested point noted in the video below, is that the Bullet ants realize the danger and move the infected as far away from their colonies as possible.

I did some more research on this interesting fungi, and according to Wikipedia, this specific species of Cordyceps is called Cordyceps sinensis. The image at the top of this post is of dried up specimens.

Cordyceps sinensis is a species of southeast, mountainous China that attacks caterpillars, specifically the larvae of hepialid moths (identified as species of Hepialus or Thitarodes). The caterpillars feed on the roots of trees and shrubs on the slopes of the Himalayas. When infected by C. sinensis, the fungus mycelium fills the entire body cavity, killing the host, and the caterpillars die near the tops of their burrows. A dark brown, finger-like stroma sprouts near their heads.

I’m tagging this post under aesthetics — because the complexity, shape and biology of this fungus is close to poetic. The video below is also very well edited; a BBC documentary with a dramatic but appropriate soundtrack to enhance the experience. Beware, it might make your skin crawl.


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9 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I wonder if they control us too!

  2. Guðný

    I think the clip is from one of the episodes in the series “Earth”. What I think is remarkable is that each type of cordycep only attacks a single species of insects and of course I also find the whole thing very very creepy :)

  3. OK… that made my skin crawl and I didn’t even realize what was happening in the video until I noticed the long worm coming out of the insect.

    EEK! Invasion of the Body Snatchers… brain bugs.. INVASION!

    That seriously gave me the creeps. And reinforced to me how smart ants are.

  4. Hrafn

    What I think is remarkable is that each type of cordycep only attacks a single species of insects

    Wow. That is remarkable. It’s unclear from the Wikipedia article how many species there are that attack insects, but it seems there are at least 300 species of Cordyceps.

  5. Frank

    - What I think is remarkable is that each type of cordycep only attacks a single species of insects

    This fungi is not the only organisme that attacks 1 species, a virus for instance also attacks 1 kind of animal. A human can’t be infected by a pig virus for instance. We maybe feel a little ill, but we would not get very sick.

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