In 2018, Russian scientists studied parasitic fungi, killer organisms that turn insects into zombies. One of them, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, sprouts inside the bodies of ants, turning the victim into an obedient puppet. The infected insect wanders in search of a favorable place for the growth of its new owner. Having reached the ideal shelter, the parasitic mushroom paralyzes an insect and slowly kills it. Next, the fruiting body of the fungus springs from the victim’s head, releasing deadly spores into the air.
Scientists at Moscow State University investigated entomopathogenic fungi in the Cedar Pad reserve in the southwest of Primorsky Krai on the Russian Far East. The reserve has the largest variety of mushrooms of this group in Russia. During the expeditions, mycologists collected hundreds of fungi samples growing on insects. As a result, they identified 15 species that parasitize on ants, bees, beetles, and butterflies.
In the future, scientists expect to find out how organisms without a brain have developed the ability to control animals with a brain. Such fungi can be used to control the number of pests, blood-sucking, and other harmful insects, affecting them as biopesticides.
Photo credit: Moscow State University.