The thought of feasting on the dead might seem rather grim and grotesque but it is an important part of nature. These organisms ensure that the nutrients present in the dead and decaying matter are recycled and are sent back into the environment.
The term “saprophytes” is used to describe organisms that subsist on the dead and decaying matter. These organisms usually include microbes, fungi, and even some plants.
However, even nature can be gruesome and macabre occasionally. There are some species of parasitic fungi that attack and kill their hosts and then subsists on them as saprophytic fungi. These parasitic fungi can be even attributed to the classic mindless zombies in typical Hollywood movies.
Meet Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis- also known as the mind-control fungus. This particular species of fungi are found in tropical rainforest ecosystems all over the world. The way that this fungus affects its host is truly terrifying. It predominantly infects ants, and then manipulates and controls their movement, eventually killing its host.
The Ophiocordyceps fungi’s main motive is to propagate and disperse. The cycle starts with the spores of this fungus attaching itself on to an ant’s exoskeleton and then penetrating it. Slowly, behavioural changes are observed and eventually, the ant is compelled to leave the safety of its nest.
The ant seeks out plants with vantage points which are at least 10 inches of the ground and in direct the path of other ants. Once the ant finds a suitable position, it clamps its jaw into the leaf vein and then waits for its impending death. The fungi, meanwhile, starts feeding on the ant’s insides, completely turning it into an empty shell. Several days after the ant has died, fruiting bodies start to emerge from the ant’s head, ready to jettison new spores on unsuspecting ants below, restarting the cycle all over again.
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