Donald Steinkraus, a professor of entomology at the University of Arkansas first noticed this bizarre phenomenon on a research farm in Arkansas. It started out with the professor noticing a large group of beetles together in a patch of flowers. This seemed normal enough. Upon closer inspection, Steinkraus saw that there were many dead beetles hanging by only their mandibles to the tops of flowers.
This odd occurrence caused Professor Steinkraus to collect 500 beetles, both healthy and dead, for a more in depth study.
What he found was nothing short of amazing.
He soon identified that the dead beetles were infected with an insect pathogenic fungus (Eryniopsis lampyridarum) which had caused about 20 percent of the beetle population to turn into a zombie-like state, climb to the top of flowers, spread their wings and let the spores do their dirty work. The spores are deployed by the zombie beetles, with only a few hours of incubation needed, and infect other beetles by merely contacting their skin. The professor does not know exactly how the fungus forces the infected beetles to do what they do, but he suspects it has something to do with chemical signals.
A fungus worthy of its own horror film is on the loose, taking over the bodies of goldenrod soldier beetles and turning them into contagious zombies that can infect their beetle brethren, a new study finds.
The fungus has a creepy but foolproof modus operandi: About two weeks after it infects the goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus), it orders the beetle to climb up a plant and clamp its mandibles around a flower.
Then, the beetle dies, swinging like a scarecrow from the flower and giving the fungus ample opportunity to infect nearby beetles, said study lead investigator Donald Steinkraus, a professor of entomology at the University of Arkansas.
C. pensylvanicus - beetles may look like normal wasps or bees, but they're actually harmless beetles and important pollinators with a life span of a year. Their larvae are ravenous, devouring other insects and possibly even ticks.
The zombified beetles specifically climb to the top of flowers they know are popular pollination points for other beetles, giving the spread of this scary fungus maximum effect.
Once the beetles are clinging to the flowers it takes until the following night for the fungus to cause a pressure rise inside the carcass that causes the wings to spread as if they were healthy and ready for flight. This is when the fungus is expelled from the zombie beetle's body and the Night of the Living Dead begins for the fellow beetles.
The fact that a fungus can cause a dead beetle to spread its wings can only be compared to a dead human rising from his casket and waving his hand at you. Hello zombie!
There currently is no way to protect the beetles from this zombies and it kills one fifth of all beetles.
"With all of that being said, this type of fungus is not all that unique," Steinkraus mentioned.
I personally find it pretty creepy to think that there are zombie fungus that can control people, animals or insects. Heck, control anything for that matter. I find it even more disturbing that scientists say this IS NOT UNCOMMON.
These morbid killers have been known to do similar devilry to other types of insects and even HUMANS. Yes! Humans!
Lucky for us the effect on humans is more of an operational type of deal where the pathogenic microorganism can cause the human host to further help in spreading the virus.
On one hand I'm happy to see that precious scientific finding does not seem to be being spent on looking for a zombie cure. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind not having to wonder if that pretty beetle that was on my leg earlier passes me a Z-spore!
I haven't seen many beetles lately, but after reading about this, I'll be thinking twice about going anywhere near them. Keep your funky spores to yourself.
I already watch Walking Dead religiously, so I don't need it happening in my living room or backyard.