Trapped in amber is a gruesome end that still happens to some insects today.
George Poinar Jr., OSU
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.
KQED Science via Giphy
Ever heard of zombie ants? That’s the nickname given to carpenter ants that fall victim to a genus of fungi known as Ophiocordyceps.
National Geographic Channel via Giphy
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.
David P. Hughes and Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/PLOS One
In its final act, one species of fungus convinces the ant to crawl onto a leaf and bite down with a death grip.
And the cycle of death continues.
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.
Maj-Britt Pontoppidan and David P. Hughes/PLOS One
Regardless, what these fungi do to their host ants is true nightmare fuel.
Head Like an Orange via Giphy
Read more stories about animals here.