Mind-Controlling Cordyceps Turn Insects into Zombies | Bad Natured | BBC Earth

Insect behaviour seemed strange... until the horrifying reason was revealed. Subscribe: #Cordyceps #BadNatured Watch more: Planet Earth Blue Planet Planet Earth II Planet Dinosaur Welcome to BBC EARTH! The world is an amazing place full of stories, beauty and natural wonder. Here you'll find 50 years worth of entertaining and thought-provoking natural history content. Dramatic, rare, and exclusive, nature doesn't get more exciting than this. This is a commercial page from BBC Studios. Service information and feedback:

BBC Earth

9 months ago

the moment I saw it I thought my God I'm looking at cordyceps so I'm Lizzie Daly a biologist and Wildlife broadcaster a number of years ago I had the opportunity to venture into a beautiful part of the world it's a place called dalam Bali and it sits in Borneo I remember you know arriving feeling really excited this is a place with you know clouded leopards orangutans you've got you know rhinoceros hornbills flying over you can hear them flapping you can feel the warmth and the humidity of an en
vironment like this rainforest and we were really lucky because we were there at a time where there was a unique event happening it's called Mass flowering it's basically where you know all these trees life and fruits burst into into flower and into life and it creates this kind of supercharged environment at the beginning of our trip we start heading on these kind of overgrown trails and you know the minute you step on these Trails you are immersed in this environment you can feel the humidity
it's raining on and off all day so you're damp there's lots of noise you're surrounded by the sounds of these Empress cicadas which kind of almost like the pulsing heartbeat of the rainforest yeah I like to think I'm quite comfortable in natural environments in hostile environments but there is nothing like walking through a dense rainforest by yourself you are truly swallowed up by the environment suddenly you're in an overwhelming chorus of just the rainforest you're being you know rained on e
very five minutes I would keep stopping along this uh along this path to notice some of the life around me and I remember stopping and I saw a trail of ants you know answer a big player in this environment and these ants were kind of going across the footpath that I just crossed I was watching them for a while I noticed that next to the trail there were a few individual ants acting kind of strange there was one ant that was carrying off another dead ant I thought you know not much of it perhaps
that ant was Ill but there was another ant kind of moving slowly it wasn't part of the rest of the trail constantly cleaning itself it would stop and and you know clean its antennae and its legs quite thoroughly and it was just moving in a really odd way later on in the day as I was walking along a different Trail I was standing next to this trunk and it was kind of covered in in mosses this beautiful kind of vibrant green that you can only get in this kind of environment and I noticed uh kind o
f like a Mossy lump that was attached to this tree and I realized it was a cicada but the cicada wasn't singing it wasn't calling and it wasn't moving at all I realized that that cicada is actually dead it was covered in this kind of fungus appearance and it was basically looked like it melted into the side of the tree I wasn't looking at a natural death ear all of a sudden this beautiful environment which has so much wonder and Beauty in it suddenly the darker side came to the fore and it at th
at moment changed my entire perception of this environment I was looking at cordyceps when we think of a fungus images of mushrooms crazy toadstools or just blue molds on some bread comes to mind it all seems quite benign but cordyceps is anything but benign it's a parasitic fungus that infects and can even manipulate the behavior of its animal host that sounds Sinister but here's what probably happened to the ant that I saw when a cordyceps Spore landed on the ants body it would have released a
mix of proteins and enzymes such as chitinase to break down the ants harder outer shell and the infective hifa used mechanical pressure to basically drill through the exoskeleton once inside the ant cordyceps hyphae set about reproducing but unlike say a bacterial infection these cells now start to get organized joining together to create a mycilial network similar really to the networks that run Underground through a forest but in this case through the body of the ant using the ants own cells
as fuel a few years ago in fact a research team in the U.S painstakingly scanned an infected carpenter ant discovering that the mycilial network actually wrapped its way through the individual muscle fibers of the ant what's more this network seemed to leave the brain intact the traditional view was that the fungus controlled the ants Behavior through a cocktail of mind-bending drugs but this new research has led people to like and cordyceps to a Macabre Puppet Master cutting off the brain from
the body and controlling the limbs of the ant through its network of mycilial filaments then cordyceps is ready for its Grim finale in the case of the zombie ant fungus it drives the infected antibody to climb to the top of a nearby plant once the fungus attacks is at the perfect height the Anson forced to lock its tiny Jewels around a bit of foliage and here finally the ant dies in what has become known as the death grip the cordyceps mycelium causes the ant to bite so hard that it destroys the
muscle filaments that slide past each other causing the jaw to lock shut forever finally a fruiting body Sprouts at the back of the ant's head showering down fungal spores on the rainforest below hoping to land on another poor unsuspecting ant restarting the whole cycle again there are over 500 species of cordyceps that have been identified and we can safely say there are many more that we don't even know about each species of cordyceps has evolved to infect a specific host such as an ant a cic
ada a caterpillar or even a spider species we understand the precise nature of very few of these relationships little is known of the true biodiversity of the fungi Kingdom around 120 000 species have been formally described but it's thought there may be as many as 2.2 to 3.8 million species we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what evolution has to offer but this Insidious fungus crafts Nature's very own Walking Dead earning its victim the very worst of deaths I think it's that aspec
t of its life cycle that really fires up our imagination earning names like zombie and fungus and inspiring science fiction such as the girl with all the gifts and video games such as the last of us where parasitic fungus has jumped from affecting and saucicadas to infecting and controlling humans but before you have nightmares you'll be glad to know that it doesn't infect humans [Music] yet [Music]