There is nothing that fuels nightmares more than the thought of a zombie apocalypse. Some think this idea is too far fetched to ever come true, but there is a little known fungus that turns insects (for this species specifically ants) into zombies. It sounds like something out of a hit science fiction video game but this fungus has been around for well over a century.
Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis was first discovered in 1859 and is mainly found in tropical forests. This amazing fungus doesn’t just infect any old ant when they pass by. The microorganism is actually able to recognize the brains of different ant species and will only release mind controlling chemicals when an ant that fits its needs is near. This is because behavioral manipulation is only able to occur when there is a very close coevolution between the pathogen and the host (lucky for everything else).
When a suitable host passes by, the fungi will infect the ant and quickly spread through the entire body. The fungal cells in the ant’s head then release chemicals that hijack the insect’s nervous system and forces it to climb vegetation and lock its mandibles onto a leaf or a twig. Once that is complete the host will remain there until a stock that releases spores grows from the back so that it can infect more hosts below.
So what we have here is the fungus that is the star of the hit game The Last of Us. We are a few minor evolutions away from a fungus being able to infect humans in the same way. While it wouldn’t produce the traditional brain eating zombies, what would happen would be even more nightmarish in some aspects. Just imagine having to constantly worry about what you are breathing in, or if someone in your area is infected and releasing spores that could take down an entire city. It’s things like this that truly make me believe mother nature is a huge cantankerous bitch.