Scientists find two new species of fungi that turn flies into “zombies”

There are many types of fungi that will invade insects to reproduce, but most kill the host and then release spores. Two new species of fungi discovered in Denmark consume their fly hosts from the inside out, but keep them alive for as long as possible to walk or fly while the mushroom shoots spores from the fly’s abdomen over a larger area than it could from a dead fly, which also brings them into contact with new victims. A study from the University of Copenhagen identifies these new mushrooms as being Strongwellsea tigrinae and Strongwellsea acerosa.

The unusual tactic of keeping the host alive while releasing spores is called active host transmission (AHT). It is an effective way to gain access to other healthy people. Scientists believe that fungi could produce substances that “drug” their hosts (sometimes colloquially called “zombies”), which means they can stay fresh enough to live for days after infection – collapsing only after there is nothing in the abdomen but the fungus.

“We therefore suspect that these fungi can produce amphetamine-like substances, which maintain the energy levels of the fly to the end,” said lead researcher Jørgen Eilenberg of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Researchers also believe that fungi produce substances that keep microorganisms away from the fungal wound of the fly and keep it clean, but have not yet tested this.

Although we do not know what species of insect is illustrated, we can imagine that the victim could look (warning: annoying) something like this. Read more about The Guardian’s new discoveries.

[via Damn Interesting]