Losing One’s Mind in the Amazon

Imagine getting an infection and having your mind taken over, at which point you find yourself in an unknown location, only to die just before a fungus that looks like a plant or a tree grows out of your head for 4-10 days.

Sound far-fetched? Not if you’re an ant or other small insect and happen to call the Brazilian rainforest your home. A few weeks back, scientists announced a new fungus species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani has been found in Brazil, though a very similar fungus has been known about since 1865 and believed to have existed some 48 million years ago, according to fossil research.

(more photos at National Geographic)

The mind control aspect is actually the parasitic fungus changing the ant’s perception of pheromones which makes the ant climb a nearby tree or plant in order that the fungus spores can best pollinate. According to David Hughes, a professor and scientist that has led research teams to study the fungi, “whole graveyards with 20 or 30 ants in a square metre” can be found in certain areas where the fungus grows.