This Killer Fungus Turns Flies into Zombies | Deep Look
Something is growing inside that fruit fly in your kitchen. At dusk, the fly points its wings straight up and dies in a gruesome pose so that a fungus can ooze out and fire hundreds of reproductive spores.
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Some of the scariest monsters are the ones that grow inside another being and take over its body. Think of the movie Alien, where the reptile-like space creature explodes out of its victim’s chest.
That monster might be fictional, but scientists are studying a fungus that’s horrifyingly real — at least for the flies it invades, turns into a zombie-like state and kills in order to reproduce.
“Oh, it’s a nightmare for the flies,” said entomologist Brad Mullens, who studied the fungus at the University of California, Riverside.
The fungus is known by its scientific name, Entomophthora muscae, which means “fly destroyer.” It lives off houseflies and fruit flies, among others.
“It’s a crazy system,” said Carolyn Elya, a biologist at Harvard. “The fungus only kills at dusk.”
Like a killer puppeteer, the fungus follows a precise clock.
At dusk on the fourth or fifth day after it picks up a fungal spore, an infected fruit fly stops flying. It starts behaving erratically, for example climbing up and down toothpicks that Elya puts into the vials where she keeps the infected insects.
Then the fly climbs to the top of the toothpick, a behavior Elya and other scientists refer to as “summiting.”
In an unusual twist, the fly then extends its mouthpart down, and some liquid drips out and glues the fly to the surface it’s standing on. Over the next 10 minutes, the fly’s wings ascend until they’re pointing upwards and it dies frozen in this lifelike pose.
Soon after, white spongy fungus oozes out of its abdomen. This white goo is made up of hundreds of lollipop-shaped protrusions which each launch a microscopic bell-shaped spore at high speed. Now the spores just need to get into another fly to grow.
--- Could this or a similar fungus “zombify” humans?
“No, it's very unlikely,” Elya said. “We can control our bodily temperature to kill invaders.”
-- Can we use the fungus as biological control?
Researchers have tried, but the spores are too fragile to grow in the lab.
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🏆Congratulations🏆 to the following fans on our Deep Look Community Tab for coming up with the top titles - as decided by fellow Deep Peeps - for a horror movie starring this fungus:
Joginiz - "Flyday the 13th'
KingXDragoon - "Pretty Fly for a dead guy"
Laura Garrard - The Fungus Among Us!!
Lysiasolo - "Parafungal activity"
De paus van de Lilith Kerk - The whitecorpse horror (as an ode to HP Lovecraft "the Dunwich horror")
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