Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (Cordyceps unilateralis) - Page 8

Insects Brainwashed by Fungi Parasites - Page 8

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (Cordyceps unilateralis)

The species can be identified at the end of its life cycle by its reproductive structure, consisting of a wiry yet pliant darkly pigmented stroma stalk extending from the back of the dead ant's head. The stalk has perithecia just below its tip. The fungus infects ants, most known as the carpenter ants, in which the fungus creates a single stalk arising from the dorsal neck region on which the spore-bearing sexual structures are borne horizontally. Once infected with the fungus, the ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on the underside of a leaf. This is known as "the death grip" and occurs in very specific locations. The fungus then kills the ant, and continues to grow as its hyphae invade more soft tissues and structurally fortify the ant's exoskeleton. More mycelia then sprout out of the ant, and securely anchor it to the plant substrate while secreting antimicrobials to ward off competition. When the fungus is ready to reproduce, its fruiting bodies grow from the ant's head and rupture, releasing the spores. This process takes four to ten days.

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