2015 Photo Contest, Nature, Stories, 1st prize

Mindsuckers

Photographer

Anand Varma

National Geographic

22 January, 2014

When spores of an Ophiocordyceps fungus land on an Amazonian ant, they penetrate its exoskeleton and enter its brain, compelling the host to leave its normal habitat on the forest floor and scale a nearby tree. Filled with the fungus, the dying ant fastens itself to a leaf or another surface. Fungal stalks burst from the ant’s husk and scatter spores onto ants below, to begin the process again.

Many parasites not only feed off their hosts, but appear to manipulate the host’s behavior in a way that is advantageous to the parasite’s life cycle. Recent research indicates that this influence occurs at a genetic level—certain parasite genes seem to be able to take control of the host’s brain. Research has shown that in some cases a single parasite gene is responsible for altering the host’s behavior, though in most instances it is thought that the phenomenon is brought about by a combination of genes.

About

Anand Varma

Anand Varma is a freelance photographer and videographer who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He started photographing natural history subjects while studying biology at the Universi...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/200
Focal length
100.0 mm
F-Stop
16.0
ISO
400
Camera
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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