Grisly photo of a zombie fungus bursting from a fly wins competition

This dramatic image of the fruiting bodies of a parasitic fungus erupting from a fly’s body won Roberto García Roa the top prize in the BMC Ecology and Evolution image competition

Life 31 August 2022

Roberto Garc?a-Roa

Roberto García Roa

THIS striking image looks like the stuff of nightmares – and it isn’t far off. It shows the fruiting bodies of a parasitic fungus bursting through the body of a fly, a deadly conquest that has been honed by evolution.

This dramatic and highly disturbing sight was captured by evolutionary biologist and photographer Roberto García Roa at the University of Valencia, Spain, and won him the top prize in the BMC Ecology and Evolution image competition.

Also known as zombie fungi, most species in this family are parasites that use their spores to control the minds of insects, such as flies and ants. The bodies of these creatures are then used to spread the fungus and infect more organisms, even other fungi.

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García Roa came across the infected insect while trekking in Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve. The fungus was able to infiltrate the exoskeleton and mind of the fly, then compelled the insect to move to a more favourable spot for the fungus’s growth, said García Roa, in an announcement about his winning image. “The fruiting bodies have then erupted from the fly’s body and will be jettisoned in order to infect more victims,” he said.

Other species of zombie fungi, such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, are able to alter the behaviour of ants so that they leave their trails and attach to the undersides of leaves, their heads becoming vessels for the fungus’s spores.

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