Natural Born Manipulators: 5 Ways To Drive You Crazy

The life of a parasite depends on the well-being and habits of its host. Parasites perform incredible tricks to succeed evolutionarily. For example, they may change the behavior of their hosts or even turn them into zombies. Let’s figure out the who, how, and why behind the most successful parasites in the world.

Kicked out and Crucified

The setting: a rainforest. Starring: the carpenter ant, Camponotus rufipes, and the fungus, Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis. Some species of Cordyceps parasitize on caterpillars, flies, and other insects, but Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis is unique in that it can change the behavior of its victims. This fungus infects the tropical ant Camponotus rufipes: when infected, the social insect leaves the anthill, finds a leaf low off the ground, and picks a place on the vein on the underside of the leaf. The fungus has achieved its purpose and grows through its victim — soon there’s only the chitinous silhouette left on the bottom of the leaf. Then, the fruit body ripens and releases spores that infect other ants, and the cycle repeats.


How the fungus controls the ant

If relatives of the zombifier fungus get by without complex manipulations, why does Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis need it? Because the inhabitants of the anthill are worried about order and sanitation: they take the dead out of the house and bury them outside. Scientists from the US and Brazil decided to find out what would happen if the bodies of infected ants ended up in an anthill. As expected, the corpses were promptly removed from inhabited anthills, but even when the carcass of an infected ant was placed inside an abandoned anthill, the fungus would not sprout. The zoologists concluded that the conditions inside might be unsuitable, and so they began to monitor the movement of ants relative to anthills and leaves with germinated fungus.

Subscribe to read in full

Get Unlimited Digital Access for all issues

The subscription renews automatically. You can unsubscribe at any time


An astronaut floating in space above the earth, surrounded by particles and positrons.

Subscribe to continue reading

Get 20% off your first order!