Screamtime: Zombie Fungus29:36


I just want to give you fair warning that when looking at the photos and videos for this week's post, this is how I felt:

The photos made my skin crawl, so if you're at all squeamish or not into nature being gross... don't keep reading. You can head to safety here.

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OK! Onto the gross stuff.

This week's episode is about a fungus called Cordyceps. It's a parasite that attacks insects. It's also used as a health supplement to increase energy. Amory, Ben and Josh actually tried some, which you can hear about in the podcast, but of course please don't try any without consulting a doctor/your medical professional.

Cordyceps is extremely popular on Reddit because when it takes over an insect, it is gross and fascinating and horrifying and interesting. Check it:

Nature is metal! There's also this super popular video narrated by David Attenborough from the BBC's Planet Earth series that gets posted a lot. Please, listen to this kindly British man talk about this nightmarish horror:

I am shook, as the kids say.

Amory and Ben talked to some people who study this kind of fungus, including one who discovered exactly how it controls an ant's behavior.

Maridel Fredericksen, now a PhD student at the University of Basel in Switzerland, began studying this when she was getting her Masters at Penn State.

What she and her colleagues discovered is that Cordyceps makes its own fungal network inside the ant — a network of cells that communicates and works together. That's how it commands the ant's body to crawl onto a high stem and cling onto it for dear life.

Luckily... this kind of fungus isn't present in humans. I mean, yet. You can watch it happen for pretend in the video game The Last Of Us.

One of the scientists Ben and Amory talked to says we've only documented about 7 percent of all the fungi that exist on the planet. So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sleep tight!

Thanks to u/flamingloops for this week's artwork, titled "Fun Guy." Find more of his work at

Meghan B. Kelly Twitter Multi-platform Editor
Meghan is the multi-platform editor for WBUR.