A zombie wasp has been pictured after a parasitic fungi infected it and took over its body.
The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division posted pictures of the wasp to Facebook, where it can be seen grasping a twig in Fayette County. The parasitic fungi can be seen sprouting from the wasp's body.
The wasp is infected by the Cordyceps fungi, which targets and kills insects.
Once the fungi has attached itself to an insect, it slowly penetrates its skeleton and brain. The insect effectively becomes a zombie as the infection slowly takes over its body. As the fungus spreads throughout the insect it feeds on its innards and then begins to sprout from the insect's body.
It continues to grow for about three weeks and then starts producing spores. These spores can attach themselves to any other nearby insect and begin the process again.
The division said a woodsman named Appling spotted "this neat example of nature's wild ways" while scouting the forest.
"You see here a wasp that was a victim of CORDYCEPS FUNGI infectionsee the way it's grasping the twig?? THE FUNGUS MADE HIM DO IT," the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division said in a caption to the photographs. "There are thousands of species of cordyceps, each specialized for A PARTICULAR SPECIES OF INSECT!!"
The unusual looking stems protruding from the wasp's body are the fungus, getting ready to, or already producing spores.
The parasitic fungi also attacks ants in the same way and can sometimes wipe out entire colonies. It can be found worldwide but is particularly prevalent in tropical forests where it often infects colonies of bullet ants.
Despite the gruesome way it kills its victims, the fungus controls insect populations and prevents them from becoming too large.
"Yet another way that populations are kept in check...Mr. Appling out there doing his part. Cordyceps doing its part. What an amazing system," the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division said in a caption.
The infection does not become prevalent for a while and infected insects may appear normal for days after the fungus attaches itself.
Ants are usually able to detect when another ant is infected. The infected ants will often be cast out from the colony, to prevent the deadly fungus from spreading further.
Cordyceps are used in traditional Chinese medicine but there is no scientific evidence that their use has any clinical effect on human ailments.
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