ELI5… How do cordyceps control ants?

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ELI5… How do cordyceps control ants?

In: Biology

The argument put forward is that all organisms are driven by the expression of their genes, these genes trigger the creation and release of chemicals that drive our behavior and how we interact with the outside world. For example, the genes of birds trigger the release of chemicals that create their desire to and knowledge of how, to build nests, to mate and lay eggs, to nurture the baby birds, etc.

Cordyceps is a fungus that starts as a type of egg, called a spore. If the spore comes into contact with an ant it dissolves a hole in the ants body-armor and enters the ant’s body. Ants don’t have arteries and veins like we do, they are filled with a sort of blood soup that fills their body like water in a bathtub.

As the cordyceps comes into contact with different organs it can sense what the organ is and it releases chemicals to over-ride the ant’s genes and takes control of that organ. It makes the jaw muscles larger and stronger, it takes over the leg muscles like a puppeteer and it invades the brain. The cordyceps pumps chemicals into the ant’s brain that allow to see what the ant sees and hear feel what the ant feels.

Just like chemicals make birds look for good branches to build a nest, the cordyceps makes the ant look for a good branch over the forest floor. It makes the ants legs walk to that branch and it makes the ants now super strong jaws bite onto the branch in one final act. The fungus sucks up the last of ant’s life energy to grow a long mushroom that bursts from the ant’s head and dangles in the air over the forest floor. When the mushroom matures it releases millions of new spores that float down to the ground, waiting for a new ant to walk by.