Deep in the Nicaraguan rain forests of Central America there lives a large, venemous ant, Paraponera clavata, known commonly as the bullet ant. This large ant survives by hunting for food among the fallen leaves and undergrowth of the extraordinarily rich rain-forest floor, and in the trees above its nests.
On occasion, while thus foraging, one of these ants will become infected by inhaling the microscopic spore of a fungus from the genus Cordyceps, one of millions of such spores raining down upon the forest floor from somewhere in the canopy above. Upon being inhaled, the spore lodges itself inside the ant’s tiny brain and immediately begins to grow, quickly fomenting bizarre behavioral changes in its host. The creature appears troubled and confused, and now, through no choice of its own, it leaves the forest floor and begins an arduous climb up the stalk of a vine or fern, or even a tree trunk.
Driven on by the still-growing fungus, the ant finally achieves a seemingly prescribed height, whereupon, utterly spent, it attaches its mandibles to the plant it has been climbing and, thus affixed, waits to die. Ants that have met their doom in this fashion are quite a common sight in certain sections of the rain forest.
The fungus, for its part, lives on: it continues to consume the ant’s brain, moving through the rest of the nervous system and presently through all the soft tissue that remains of the ant. After approximately two weeks, a spikelike protrusion erupts from what was once the ant’s head. Growing to a length of about an inch and a half, the Spike features a bright-orange tip heavily laden with spores, which now begin to rain down onto the forest floor for other unsuspecting ants to inhale.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, apparently there are thousands of varieties of Cordyceps, and each one specialises in an individual species of insect.
Mostly, being a writer is a blessing. Sometimes, especially if, like me, you have a tendency to write horror, fantasy, and the weird, it doesn’t feel like a blessing. Imagination takes over, fuelled by articles like the one above, and all sorts of horrific outcomes come to mind.
What if Cordyceps decided to feast on small rodents instead of insects? What if it progressed onto larger mammals?
What if it decided that human beings would make the perfect hosts…?
Sleep well tonight, won’t you.