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Mind blowing strategies of a mind controlling fungus

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Ever watched a zombie apocalyptic movie? Well, none can match this! The horrifying frustration of an alert but locked up brain and a hijacked body, under the control of another. The culprit? A harmless looking fungus. But you know what they say, don’t judge a book by its cover! Harmless may be its look but sinister is its life- Cordyceps, the zombie fungus.

To find this world’s most sinister example of mind control do you know where to look? Come with me to a tropical country like India. Venture deep into the jungle and keep your eyes sharp!


Now, before you see them, let me share with you steps of its hijacking operation. When this fungus infects an insect, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and eventually hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it takes full control, compelling the insect to leave its comfort zone and move to a place with high humidity for the fungus to grow well. In the case of hijacked ants, we can see the them clinging to the leaf’s central vein, where the fungus forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn. An army of zombie in the making!

Wait, wait, wait….go back to the beginning…

How exactly does it enter the insect’s body and hijack the mind? A complicated lesson is what this may entail but let me simplify it for you:

When the fungus first enters its host, it exists as single cells that float around the insect’s haemolymph, budding off new copies of themselves. At some point, these single cells start working together, connecting with each other by building short tubes. Hooked up in this way, they communicate and exchange nutrients. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger insect.

As such, what we have here is the fungus invading a host’s body, making thousands of copies of itself and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the host. These fungus exert a more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppet.” Once an infection is underway, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. The fungus effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to obey. Thus, the insect ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.


Documented and Photographed by Alfred Daniel from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Alfred takes this opportunity to thank his friend Dinesh Rajaram Hegde who called Alfred immediately after noticing the Zombie ant in the backyard of his house and explained it to Alfred with full enthusiasm.

A moth infested with Cordyceps, Kerala, USA


Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae, TN USA


A fly taken over by Cordyceps, Tamil Nadu, India

Ants clinging to the leaf’s central vein, South of Jog falls, Karnataka, India

A poor ant, completely taken over by fungus

long stalk of Cordyceps through the ant’s head

Entomophthora fungus taken over a poor fly - from Thessaloniki- Greece

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