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Cordyceps: The Most Terrifying Fungus You’ve Ever Seen

By on May 28, 2013 at 7:37 am - 6 Comments

Think zombie apocalypses are impossible? Wrong! They happen all the time.

To insects.

It's Cordyceps!

Meet Cordyceps. This is a fungus that infects insects and arthropods. Oh, but this isn’t just any kind of fungus. It’s special.

This one attacks a host, replaces its tissue, and sprouts ominous stems that grow outside of its body. These stems eventually release spores into the air, infecting other hosts.

What’s even more interesting is that there are many different Cordyceps species, each for a separate species of insect.

cordyceps-ant

Ants have it particularly bad.

Certain species of Cordyceps, such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, can alter its host’s behavior.

In this case, once the ant is infected, the Cordyceps causes it to climb up to the top of a plant. The ant then attaches its mandibles to the leaf or stem so it cannot move, and then simply waits to die. Eventually, the fungus grows out of the ant’s body, and releases spores into the air.

Here’s a fascinating excerpt from BBC’s Planet Earth that has some footage of this mind-altering Cordyceps in action:

“The fungus is so virulent, it can wipe out whole colonies of ants…”

Ant colonies, however, are wise to Cordyceps; if a member of the colony is infected, healthy ants will carry the infected away from the colony, hopefully avoiding infection themselves.

Here are a few other images of Cordyceps in action, this first one being that of a (dead) Tarantula:

Warning: Tarantula

cordyceps-stem

The Stem

Cordyceps And Humans

thelastofus-cordyceps

Cordyceps only affects insects; it can’t infect humans. In fact, it’s apparently often used to treat certain ailments, such as respiratory disorders, and can boost the immune system. I guess. I’ve never tried the stuff.

…and I don’t really want to.

But what if Cordyceps ever evolved to include humans on its host roster?

It’s a terrifying possibility, one that game developer Naughty Dog explores in their PlayStation 3 game The Last of Us. Check out this video to hear about their inspiration and see some of their “zombie” designs.

And here are a couple examples of what Cordyceps-infected humans look like in the game:

A Cordyceps-infected human in The Last of Us

last-of-us-fungus

Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Image credits: Geoff Gallice, Jason Hollinger, David Evans, bgv23,

ScaldingHotSoup, and Sony.

About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a freelance writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Follow him on Twitter @Dimentoid or on Google+, and be sure to like Stranger Dimensions on Facebook!
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  • http://thedailydoodles.tumblr.com/ David Michael Chandler

    Wowwwwwwwwwww I haaaaaaaaaate that stuff, hahaha :-)

    I have a test drawing from over a year ago in my idea-notepad, and it’s fungus-y thingies growing out of the pores of a human nose and mushroom/fungus growing out of a back but it grosses me out too much to even do a real drawing of it.

    Apparently I don’t mind showing faces cut in half and kids dying, but fungusy thingies growing out of bodies is my line! Ughhhh it’s so gross.

    • http://www.strangerdimensions.com/ Rob

      Fungus growing out of nose pores? That’s an exciting image that will haunt me for the rest of the day. ;)

      I don’t know. I don’t like fungus, either. I think it’s the way it spreads, the spores. People can get really messed up by mold and stuff.

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  • Black_hammer35

    deep concept for a game

  • Cameron Austin Overton

    Well if that did happen, then they’ll just go on a plant and wait to die then, no zombie apocolypce, but possibility of suffering the most horrible death imaginable. glad im not an ant.