This is surreal.
Four new species of the zombifying fungi, members of the Ophiocordyceps (or just Cordyceps) genus have apparently been discovered. These fungi are the sworn enemy of tropical ants and other insects, infecting them and causing their unusual behavior, according to Mongabay.
Once it infects an ant, the fungus uses as-yet-unidentified chemicals to control the ant’s behavior, [study researcher David] Hughes told LiveScience. It directs the ant to leave its colony (a very un-ant-like thing to do) and bite down on the underside of a leaf — the ant’s soon-to-be resting place. Once it is killed by the fungus, the ant remains anchored in place, thanks to its death grip on the leaf.
Ultimately, the fungus produces a long stalk that protrudes from the ant’s head, shooting spores out in the hopes of infecting other ants. Two of the four newly discovered species also sprouted smaller stalks elsewhere, including from the victim’s feet and lower leg joints – the equivalent of knees.
The video below, from Planet Earth, gives an incredible time-lapsed view of what Cordyceps fungi can do.
The discovery of these four new Cordyceps species, each specific to a different ant in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, will help scientists study the role of zombie fungi in a degraded habitat, reports Mongabay. The initial paper on the new fungi was published in the open-access journal, PloS ONE.