Did you know that certain fungi can turn insects into zombies, just like in the movies? These “zombie-making” fungi control the insects’ behavior and make their hosts do strange things like walking a long way, climbing tall plants, and hanging onto high surfaces. This is so the fungi can make their infectious spores spread further. There are many types of zombie-making fungi, and most have evolved independently.
Yet they change the insects’ behavior in a similar way. How do they do this and why is it so common?
We reviewed previous studies on zombie-making fungi to search for an answer. These fungi use both mechanical and chemical processes to control their hosts. And while the changed behavior is very similar, the ways they achieve it vary greatly among the different species of zombie-making fungi. Each one has its own unique way of manipulating insects to change the same behaviors! We believe these same behaviors are changed by all these different fungal species because these manipulations are the best way to infect as many other hosts as possible.