Birth and death in one image: This macro shot shows the fruiting body of a parasitic “zombie fungus” growing from a fly. The fungus has developed inside the insect, infiltrating its brain as well. In doing so, the neuroparasite tricks its host into driving the fungus spores to a location conducive to multiplying – the doomed insect becomes a fungus-controlled zombie.
Over the course of evolution, some organisms have developed a particularly sophisticated dispersal strategy – they have become neuroparasites. These develop within an animal, influencing its behavior to its advantage. For example, the liver fluke helps cercaria ants to climb to the top of blades of grass to feed, allowing the parasite to reach its host, a cow or sheep. The toxoplasmosis pathogen blocks the rodents’ natural fear response, which are then eaten by cats for the same reason.
Zombie mushroom caught in action
Another example of such a neuroparasite is shown in this photo taken in a Peruvian national park: it shows a fly with a parasitic fungus growing out of its body. This macro image was created by biologist Roberto García-Roa of the University of Valencia in Spain. Thus he won first prize in the photo contest of specialist magazine BMC Ecology and Evolution. “The captivating image shows the simultaneity of life and death: the death of the fly gives new life to the fungus,” says Christy Anna Hipsley of the magazine’s editorial team.
“My shot shows a competition shaped by thousands of years of evolution,” explains García-Roa. “The spores of the so-called zombie fungus infiltrate the exoskeleton and then the fly’s brain, making it search for the optimum location for the fungus to grow. The fruiting bodies of the fungus then exit the fly’s body and feed on to other victims.” can infect with its spores.”
In addition to this winning image, other scientists were also recognized for capturing the fascinating adaptations and interrelationships of the organisms in the image. The aim of the photo contest is to give evolutionary biologists and ecologists an opportunity to present their research area in a creative way and to present it to the public. “The winning images were chosen for their technical quality and beauty and the scientific stories they told,” said Jennifer Herman of the editorial team. (BMC Ecology and Development, 2022; doi: 10.1186/s12862-022-02049-y)
Quell: BMC (Biomed Central)