Fungal excitement

I am continuing to make extremely slow progress in sorting through the thousands of photos that I took in Borneo over the summer, but thought I would highlight something I found on a walk in Danum Valley that made me extremely excited… In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never emitted a squeal of delight upon seeing a fungus before.

cordyceps

This wasp has been killed by a species of Cordyceps, a genus comprising several hundred species of fungi that are pathogens of arthropods and, indeed, other fungi (see Tommy Leung’s Daily Parasite post on the rather meta Cordyceps that infects / hijacks other Cordyceps). The stalks that you can see in the picture belong to the fungus – they have sprouted out of this unfortunate insect’s body, killing it and then raining down spores of doom to infect future hosts. Which is AWESOME.

According to the cordyceps.us website, active research is underway to find Cordyceps candidates for biological control of pest insects, which is very cool; however, the majority of us will most likely know of these guys from their featuring appearance in David Attenborough’s BBC series ‘Planet Earth’, or perhaps from their role as the harbinger of zombie apocalypse in the recent video game ‘The Last of Us’.

If you are interested in the latter, good news! We had official zombie ant expert David Hughes on our podcast recently, discussing his research and also his role as media zombie advisor-in-chief, having worked not only with the creators of ‘The Last of Us’, but also with the makers of the recent film ‘World War Z’. While I couldn’t make that episode, David was kind enough to identify the species above from my photograph as Ophiocordyceps humberti.

Alternatively, you can treat yourselves to the short clip from ‘Planet Earth’, proving once again that if there’s a weird nature story out there, there’s probably an Att for that.

I SMELL A MEME COMING ON

AFT_cordyceps_fin

UPDATE

Obviously, that meme didn’t catch on, but I was invited to add my photo to a flickr group dedicated to collecting photos of fungi that kill insects and spiders, using them as a substrate… so check out a load of such images at ‘Entomopathogenic fungi‘.

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