parasites controlling brain function (a possible explanation for blogging?)

I’m sitting here in the dark, researching parasites tonight, for a project that I’m not ready to tell you about just yet… Anyway, I came across the following, and I thought that I’d share it. As it’s ruined any chance that I had for a good night’s sleep, I thought that it might as well ruin yours too… Sweet dreams.

The carpenter ant in the picture on the left (genus Campanotus), and the bullet ant in the first film clip below (Paraponera clavata), have fallen victim to parasitic fungi of the genus Cordyceps, which manipulate the behaviour of their host in order to increase their own chances of reproducing.

The spores of the fungus attach themselves to the external surface of the ant, where they germinate. They then enter the ant’s body through the tracheae (the tubes through which insects breathe), via holes in the exoskeleton called spiracles. Fine fungal filaments called mycelia then start to grow inside the ant’s body cavity, absorbing the host’s soft tissues but avoiding its vital organs.

When the fungus is ready to sporulate, the mycelia grow into the ant’s brain. The fungus then produces chemicals which act on the host’s brain and alter its perception of pheromones. This causes the ant to climb a plant and, upon reaching the top, to clamp its mandibles around a leaf or leaf stem, thus securing it firmly to what will be its final resting place.

The fungus then devours the ant’s brain, killing the host. The fruiting bodies of the fungus sprout from the ant’s head, through gaps in the joints of the exoskeleton. Once mature, the fruiting bodies burst, releasing clusters of capsules into the air. These in turn explode on their descent, spreading airborne spores over the surrounding area. These spores then infect other ants, completing the life cycle of the fungus. Depending on the type of fungus and the number of infecting spores, death of an infected insect takes between 4-10 days…..

It just crossed my mind that the reason I’m so interested in parasites lately might be because there’s a colony inside me, and they want to see what there is on the web about their kind… I’m picturing them looking out through my eyeballs as I type this, getting nervous that I’m on to them… Perhaps they’ll kill me now, and move on… If you see me climbing to the top of a tall plant, you’d better run away before the spores go airborne.

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7 Comments

  1. be OH be
    Posted January 28, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    In case you haven’t already seen that fungus at work.

  2. mark
    Posted January 28, 2007 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    My scalp is itching.

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted January 28, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    But what if the parasites are benevolent? What if everything that is good, caring and noble in you is manipulated by them? What if without them, you would be a selfish, murderous, carnivorous capitalivore? What if they only kill us when we’ve gone to far?

    I thank God everyday for the parasites keeping my surging lesser instincts in check. Praise be the fertile fungi! (Mine angels.) May their fruiting bodies burst forevermore! (Fungus angels be with us always, forever, amen.)

  4. mark
    Posted January 29, 2007 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey, maybe you’re on to something…. This might explain why Abe Lincoln wore the stovepipe hat. Fungus may have been sprouting from his head!

  5. Zak
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s the best explanation I’ve heard.

  6. MMX
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    This is my explanation for Newt Gignrich. I think he’s just a hollowed out husk being piloted around by yellow jackets and spiders.

  7. Roland Halverson
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Perhaps this explains the hippies of Occupy Wall Street.

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