Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dumbass Design™: Cordyceps Fungi

In the latest installment of Dumbass Design™, we take a look at yet another living thing featured on the great new nature show Planet Earth. The ant here with the white eyes and the weird central antenna growing out of the top of its head is a formerly living thing. It has been eaten from the inside out by a cordyceps fungus. The fungus eats every part of the bug except for the exoskeleton, turning its victim into a cross between a statue and a dandelion. This corpse can explode with a very small jostle, and once it explodes it can infect other ants who touch it.

There are several types of cordyceps fungi, and each only develops a taste for a single species of insect. The first level of Dumbass Design™ is that the fungi can be so successful that they will wipe out their entire food supply, killing every insect of their particular species flavor in a territory. Eating all the food in an area so that your species will starve to death after your generation is gone is not the best plan for a living organism. Kinda goes against that whole Lion King™ Circle of Life idea.

The second level of Dumbass Design™ are the fungi that attack ants. Ants who have been infected show symptoms, shaking and unable to walk. Other ants of their species are smart enough to detect this, and will carry the infected ant away from the rest of the colony to die alone, where the time bomb corpse won't spread the fungus past the lone doomed victim.

What Dumbass thought up cordyceps fungi? Or did it just randomly evolve into this high risk, low reward strategy for continuing its species?


Tara Mobley said...

Freaky live ant eating fungi give me nightmares.

Matty Boy said...

Yeah, it's pretty creepy. There are some tropical human diseases that are equally disgusting, but nowhere near as contagious.