Is Mold Smart – Zombie Ants, Zombie Cicadas & Slime Mold (updated)

Eco3 Environmental Uncategorized Is Mold Smart – Zombie Ants, Zombie Cicadas & Slime Mold (updated)

Is mold smart? Oh, mold is not just smart, mold is wicked smaht! 

I’m actually using the word wicked for a reason. Wicked meaning nefarious, wicked as in evil! On a basic level, do the terms “smart” or “intelligent” apply to mold? Does mold have a brain? Can mold actually learn? Do they have calculated behavior? Be prepared to be amazed by how “smart” mold can be.

I’m just going to briefly touch upon a few instances found in nature. Additional information easily be found by using your search engine.

Zombie Ants 

Zombie Ants are victims of a parasitic fungus which controls their actions and ultimately leads to their death. 

* Once infected the fungus will force the ant to migrate to areas where temperature and humidity are suitable for the fungal growth.

* Once in the proper location, the fungus will force the ant to climb up a plant onto a leaf. The fungus will then force the ant to close it’s mandibles biting onto the leaf. Now the mandible will remain locked even after death. One the ant is now locked in place,  the fungus uses a toxin to kill the ant. 

* This entire process takes around 4-10 days. Once the ant is dead, the reproductive stage begins. In the reproduction stage, fruiting bodies will grow from the ant’s head, eventually bursting open in order to release fungal spores. These new spores will target new ants and the cycle continues.

Zombie Cicadas 

Just like zombie ants, cicadas are also victims of a parasitic fungus which controls their actions which ultimately leads to their death. However, this is a completely different fungus named massosprora. 

* In the nymph stage, the cicadas live underground between 13 or 17 years before they make their way to the surface. At this vulnerable stage a small percentage of nymphs are infected  with the fungus. 

* At this point the fungus will start to develop in way as not to hurt the insect but to control the insect. The fungus will force male cicadas to flutter their wings in a manner that mimics the mating signal of female cicadas. Now healthy male cicadas will attempt copulation with the infected insect, thus spreading the fungus to a new host.  

* The original host will continue to develop the fungus in it’s air cavity which we will call the “abdomen” where it will continue to drop/spread spores as it crawls and along surfaces. Eventually the poor cicada will succumb to the fungus as it has now completely taken over the insect’s entire rear section rendering it unable to perform normal bodily functions. 

* Once dead the fungus will continue to use the host as a food source.

Slime Molds 

Now for something completely different. Slime molds which are very commonly found in nature often on fallen, decaying trees exhibit the ability to make decisions. 

* Unlike commonly known fuzzy mold, the large cell slime mold looks like a slimy substance often with outreached tendrils sections similar to tentacles.

* Researchers in a lab setting placed a slime mold in a maze. The mold was placed at one end of the maze. An oat flake was placed at the other end of the maze to use as an attractant.

* Over a period of time the slime mold reaches out to find the oat flake. It will send tendrils out to explore pathways of the maze. When it reaches a dead-end section, it retracts leaving behind a chemical compound which designates the path so it will not be explored again.

* Eventually the mold will find the food source using a systematic process of elimination by creating it’s own biochemicals. 

What does this mean? 

Well, it means we have a lot to learn about mold and it’s place in our ecosystem.

So, what are the chances mold may be doing something similar to humans? Could mold be controlling our behavior by dictating certain food cravings? I will address this in a future post.

Please note: The original Zombie Ant blog post was published in 2013. This page has now been updated to include cicadas and slime mold as a convenient way to keep similar information together in a single post. 

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