Garden of Horrors: Cordyceps

Garden of Horrors: Cordyceps

Garden of Horrors faithful probably expected we’d eventually come to this: a particular fungus (It’s always a fungus, why is it always a fungus!?) with a terrifying parasitic ability it infects and then enslaves its host. That’s right, today we’re looking at Cordyceps.

Here’s how it works: Cordyceps spores infiltrate an insect’s body, infecting them. Once infected, the real terror begins; the fungus takes control of the insect’s muscles, driving it upward where it forces the insect to fasten itself to a branch and waits for death. The fungus eventually fruits, pushing through the exoskeleton. This kills the host, and the added height helps spread the cordyceps’ spores over the most extensive area possible infecting others below, and the cycle repeats.

Cordyceps ignota parasitizing on a bird spider
Cordyceps ignota parasitizing on a bird spider – Photo by Ian Suzuki, Wikimedia Commons

Ghastly right? It’s pretty clear why these parasites have become known as the “zombie” fungus. The concept of something taking control of your muscles and dragging your conscious mind along for the ride is the sort of story you’d expect from a horror novel, not the natural world. It’s no wonder both Mike Carey (in The Girl with All the Gifts), and Naughty Dog Studios (in The Last of Us) used cordyceps as the source for their zombie apocalypse. The very idea is unnerving.

But it’s not all horrible. In Traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is actually collected and dried and has been used for centuries to treat fatigue, sickness, kidney disease, and apparently low sex drive. There’s been other research happening as well looking into the other potential benefits of imbibing cordyceps. So, for those who always ask: “Can I eat this?” Yes! Yes, you can eat this weird parasitic fungus that wrestles control of the motor function of insects forcing them to climb higher and higher until the fungus kills them. Apparently, it’s good for you.

The 2006 BBC Earth special Planet Earth featured a small segment on the cordyceps, and it included some amazing footage. You can watch it in all its enthralling details below.

Funny enough, new research from Penn State University and the University of Notre Dame has only made our understanding of cordyceps more unnerving. As I implied above—and what Planet Earth got wrong at the time—cordyceps don’t take over its host’s brain. It only takes control of the muscles. This means the host is very much aware of what is happening to it as it performs its upward death march. Yikes.

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

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Friday Link Pack

Famous Scifi And Fantasy Authors In Their Workspaces
It’s Friday so I figured why not take the time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. (I will fully admit I am stealing this idea from
Swiss Miss.) Some of these I mention on twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do!


A Recipe for Great Characters
Author Dave Farland shares some advice on how to make a character engrossing. It’s a quick read and really solid advice.

Famous Scifi And Fantasy Authors In Their Workspaces
I always love stuff like this. It’s cool to the space where authors I respect spend the majority of their time.

Writing in Public Project
Author Dean Wesley Smith is detailing his life as a writer by blogging about it every day for a year. Word counts. Emails. Everything. It’s been fun to follow along.


“The Last of Us” Title Sequence
Awesome post by the good folks over at Art of the Title (@WilliamHPerkins and @lolamachine) detailing how the titles for the game “The Last of Us” was created. It’s a great read.

Abandoned Places
A tumblr sharing photos of abandoned (and sometimes creepy) places. Great location inspiration. (Thanks Margit Sage for sharing this.)

Daddy Cool by Boney M
This is my favorite song in the world right now. Everything about this video is perfect: the song, the awkward white people, everything.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

The Cats of Ulthar
Moral of the story: be nice to cats.

Farewell Gif(s) of the Week:

Hello. How are you? Let's be friends.


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