Can’t a guy parasitize in peace?
Long-time followers of the blog will know that I’m fascinated by parasitism. Here’s a story about insect parasitism that might sound familiar, but has a parasitic twist!
Ophiocordyceps is a species of Cordyceps fungi, notorious as zombifying parasites of insects. As per most infections, ants that have inhaled a fungal spore have their brain hijacked by the fungus. The “zombie” ant is driven to leave the nest, climb high up a tree, permanently grip tight with its pincers, and then serve as the deceased launching pad for a fruiting body of fungal spores, which carry on the cycle. The twist is, the fungus itself isn’t immune to parasitism. In fact, it is preyed on by a hyperparasite (a parasite whose host is other parasites) which essentially castrate the fruiting bodies. The situation offers little relief to the ant; Ophiocordyceps is only infected once the ant is long dead. However, one perk may be that, since a surprisingly small number of Ophiocordyceps produce spores due to hyperparasitism, the second parasite prevents ant armageddon.
(Side note: I got to see a moth infected by cordyceps in the cloudforest in Costa Rica!)