Nature is Metal

Look: 50-million-year-old fossil captures a parasitic phenomenon

Trapped in amber is a gruesome end that still happens to some insects today.

Head Like an Orange via Giphy

Here’s a gnarly way to die: infected by a parasite that sprouts a mushroom from your rectum.

That’s what happened to this fossilized carpenter ant, which was described in a paper recently published in the journal Fungal Biology.


But parasitic fungi aren’t just a thing of the past.

Ever heard of zombie ants? That’s the nickname given to carpenter ants that fall victim to a genus of fungi known as Ophiocordyceps.

Before the ant meets its inevitable death, the fungus hijacks its muscular functions. This causes the ant to mull around in a zombified state, acting erratically and separating itself from the colony.

In its final act, one species of fungus convinces the ant to crawl onto a leaf and bite down with a death grip.

Then a massive fungus grows out of the ant’s head or neck and releases spores into the air, infecting other ants.

And the cycle of death continues.


George Poinar Jr., OSU

While it has a similar parasitic tendency as Ophiocordyceps, the fossilized fungus described in the paper represents a newly-discovered genus and species of fungi.


The researchers named it Allocordyceps baltica.

It’s preserved in amber that is nearly 50 million years old — meaning ants and fungi have a relationship that goes way back.


The big difference between Allocordyceps and Ophiocordyceps: the ancient fungus grows from the ant’s rectum, while the ones we see today usually target the head or neck.

Regardless, what these fungi do to their host ants is true nightmare fuel.

Read more stories about animals here.

Thanks for reading,
head home for more!