Cordyceps sp.

Thank you to San of the UBC Botanical Garden Forums for sharing today’s photograph and entertaining write-up with us (original thread posted here). San also authors a weblog, Hort Log — Horticulture in the Far East; it contains many fascinating posts about both horticulture and nature in Singapore.

San writes:

Death at Calamus Avenue

A gruesome murder along the jungle trail…

Synopsis of crime: The accused is a species of Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that had infected a Euglossa bee some days/weeks back. Slowly, its mycelial filaments had spread into the internal organs and sucked the bee dry. But the depleted zombie bee must complete one last act before it was allowed to rest in peace. By not ingesting the vital muscles for movement and manipulating the nervous system of its host, the fungus drove the bee to stagger towards the direction of bright light, in this case an elevated stem of a rattan (Calamus sp.), before pulling the final trigger, destroying the brain and locking its host eternally in a characteristic rigor mortis with limbs and wings outstretched. Its fruiting bodies then sprout from the cadaver as shown in the photo, and are unhindered and free to release the spores at a high and exposed location to cause greatest distribution of its progeny.

Verdict: Guilty of murder and body snatching.

Daniel adds: According to Wikipedia, approximately four hundred species of Cordyceps have been described, primarily from eastern Asia. All members of the genus are entomopathogenic, and some have been used as biological control agents.

For additional photographs of Cordyceps and related fungi, you can visit the Cordyceps site. And, for those of you who prefer video, the BBC has posted this clip from The Plant Earth: Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi (sorry, can’t embed this one).

Cordyceps sp.

23 responses to “Cordyceps sp.”

  1. Jackie

    ACK! The stuff nightmares are made of! (Help meeeee!) But what a shot!

  2. Melinde

    Yikes! Absolutely extraordinary. Many thanks, San, it is disturbing to know a fungus can manipulate anything’s (!) nervous system.

  3. Meighan

    This both terrifies and fascinates me! I had bad dreams after watching the Cordyceps part of Planet Earth, thanks Daniel, no sleep for me tonight either 😉

  4. Lynne

    (gulp!) Wow!

  5. Meg Bernstein

    Curiouser and curiouser!

  6. Barbara

    Okay, this freaks me out!

  7. mountain laurel

    Awesome! Er, I mean, awful! Seriously, fascinating. I’ve enjoyed this site on an extracurricular basis for a while, & now you’ve just helped me with my homework, too – I’m writing a term paper on parasite-mediated changes in host animal behavior. There’s some crazy ones out there, but this is the weirdest yet. (& I get to use the term “fruiting bodies”!)

  8. C.Wick

    Outstading! I thought when I saw my email this was going to be a species of mushroom….Makes me VERY glad I’m not a bug…lol

  9. Alex Knisely

    Aren’t Toxoplasma spp. supposed to disinhibit fear in rodents, through brain parasitisation, thereby ensuring that predators will have a better chance of ingesting and passing on the T’plasma? Not too different…

  10. Jacqueline

    Whoooooooo … I scared! Thanks for the drama – I’ll share it with my sons who love ghoulie stories … and to think this is non-fiction!

  11. Elizabeth Revell

    Not just a fascinating subject, but a fantastic photo!
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. karen

    Isn’t this similar to the way progeny are dispersed in the movie(s) -“Alien” ?

  13. Tracey

    yuch, I love it!

  14. Katy S

    Nature rocks!

  15. Eric Simpson

    I forget all the details, but in an article about how “Parasites Rule the World” one parasite with a complex life cycle (i.e. a series of different hosts) at one stage infects an insect larva. As it’s final act in that host the parasite causes the larva’s head to swell and turn bright red, then makes the larva climb to the top of a nearby plant and wave it’s head around to attract the attention of the next host, a bird, which swoops down and eats the larva.
    There’s another parasite that spends part of it’s life cycle in a fish, and another part in the eye of a dragonfly.

  16. Rick

    Fascinating.Perhaps some humans are actually being controlled by a subtle parasite.This would explain the behavior of a former president.

  17. elizabeth a airhart

    i was going to rent a horror movie
    san’s page is just fine the photos are great
    nature is as nature is

  18. Daniel Mosquin

    As delicious as it might be, I’d prefer if comments on particular politicians (or other famous people) were kept to a minimum. Plenty of other places on the web to talk politics!

  19. Eric in SF

    Alex, you are correct. Here is one of the more famous videos of a toxoplasmosis-infected rat:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ikm3o5hDks
    Rats and mice have a strong instinctual fear of felines. However, the life cycle of toxoplasmosis must be completed inside the gut of a cat. The parasite reprograms the rat’s brain and removes the fear of cats. In the wild this would result in the mouse being quickly eaten, but modern life has changed that a bit.
    BTW, over 50% of Americans are infected with toxoplasmosis and are asymptomatic.

  20. Karen Vaughan

    Well the parasitic fungus helps us fight parasitic cancers. Cordyceps (C. sinensis) is one of the traditional ingredients in fu zheng, cancer treatments in Chinese herbal medicine. Sweet, warm, moist and slightly acrid, it nourishes the lung and the kidney system, increases sperm production and increases libido. It raises the platelet and erythroid levels, increases macrophage activity and NK cells. It helps increase stamina, is an adaptogen that stimulates the immune system and HPA axis, and in TCM terms stimulates the kidney yin and yang after a long debilitating illness or heavy workouts.

  21. Hugo G.

    Hello, just wanted to add that this is my favourite BPotD so far, although I hope you fix the picture part in the Widget soon (as in showing more than just the upper fraction of the picture).

  22. David Sutton

    The ‘stuff’ people know! I had no idea on this, but it’s what I love about looking at your emails each day, the amount you learn from the initial post is great but the combined knowledge of everyone else that comes in after just astounds me! Thanks to everyone for the new things I have learnt from this post.

  23. jimbob

    Dang this fungus is so crazy!!! i wounder if it can attack humans. it would be a great reaserch paper

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