The mushroom Ophiocordius unilateralis also known as "zombie ant mushroom". It is a parasite of a species of ant of the genus Camponotus and reproduces by manipulating the behavior of its host. Its spores fall on the back of an ant, they penetrate its body and gradually begin to colonize it and feed on its soft tissues, until they secrete chemicals that reach the brain directly. The ant then stops performing its normal tasks and turns into a "zombie" serving the parasite: forced at first to anchor with the mandibles to the nearest leaf, ideal place for the growth of the fungus, it is therefore killed and devoured. A long stem, ie the fruiting body of the fungus from which the spores are released, then erupts from the back of the ant's head, as you can see in the following video.

If this sounds creepy or sci-fi to you, know that "mind control" is actually a common strategy for many parasites. Another example is that of Leucochloridum paradoxum, a flat worm that forces its intermediate host, a snail, to swell and agitate the antennae so as to be more visible to birds and allow them to infest a larger organism. who you can find other amazing examples.

The mechanisms are not yet clear, but probably what in technical terms is called "parasitic mind control" is the result of production, by the parasite, of chemicals that mimic the host's neurotransmitters and hormones, who recognizes them as his own and therefore executes their "commands", often purely self-harming. Millennia of co-evolution took these parasites to learn to bend their hapless hosts for their own ends.: how long it will take scientists to understand their secrets?

Erika Salvatori

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