1. says

    Man, how much would it suck to be the ant that had to take your buddy away before his head exploded in a cloud of deadly parasitic dust that would make your whole village go insane before killing you?

    I think that’s the newest plotline from Pixar for a CGI film!

  2. says

    Freeeaaaky! Great camera work, photography and editing in that piece too – really simultaneously emphasized the beauty and horror of the whole process.

    Maybe this is what’s wrong with the Refungilicans.

  3. says

    Daenku32 – the issue has never been “are we too numerous” but “do we acquit ourselves responsibly in the global community in pursuit of our goals?” The first question deals with a specific result of the second; the second, however, applies to all behaviors equally, including reproduction.

    This was gorgeous – but did anyone have a flashback to Nausicaa?

  4. jeffw says

    Great clip. Cordyceps powder is available from many health food stores, although I believe most of it is mass-produced hydroponically. I take it sometimes. It has a faint chocolate taste. Not sure exactly what’s in it, but it has a pleasant amphetamine-like effect.

  5. Caledonian says

    No, that’s not the right question either. Any behavior is acceptable if sufficiently few organisms perform it. The question is not whether we are responsible stewards but whether there are too many of us.

  6. Hank Fox says

    I’m picturing picking up Benny Hinn in my mandibles and carrying him out into the jungle to drop him from a tree.

    So the rest of civilization would not be infected.

  7. George says

    Off topic:

    Kristof in the N.Y. Times is going after atheists. Here’s the last bit:

    Granted, religious figures have been involved throughout history in the worst kinds of atrocities. But as Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot show, so have atheists.

    Moreover, for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger. Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people. God may not help amputees sprout new limbs, but churches do galvanize their members to support soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics that otherwise would not exist. Religious constituencies have pushed for more action on AIDS, malaria, sex trafficking and Darfur’s genocide, and believers often give large proportions of their incomes to charities that are a lifeline to the neediest.

    Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let’s hope that the Atheist Left doesn’t revive them. We’ve suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.”

    Sub required:

  8. jeffw says

    I think someone needs to cart jeffw off into the wildeness before he explodes.

    I haven’t seen anything unusual sprouting out of my head yet, even when I check behind the horns. I do sometimes get this warm fuzzy feeling though…

  9. Fernando Magyar says

    jeffw, According to David Tolson, Cordyceps powder,
    among other things, improves the bioenergy status of the liver. That alone must make it a good thing to take after a case of Santa’s Butt Ale.

    It also seems to increase testosterone levels as long as you are either a mouse or live in a test tube.

    Not too sure why anyone would want to take it but it doesn’t seem to have killed anyone yet so why not, right?

    Are there any side effects or interactions?

    There are insufficient studies on the safety of cordyceps. However, it has a long history of use as a food and is generally considered safe.16 There is no information available about safety in pregnancy, lactation, or use in children.

    There are two reported cases of lead poisoning associated with the use of apparently contaminated cordyceps powder.17 Cordyceps should only be purchased from companies that test to exclude heavy metal contamination.

    At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with cordyceps.

  10. George says

    To irritate you all some more, here’s the first bit of Kristof:

    If God is omniscient and omnipotent, you can’t help wondering why she doesn’t pull out a thunderbolt and strike down Richard Dawkins.

    Or, at least, crash the Web site of That’s a snarky site that notes that while people regularly credit God for curing cancer or other ailments, amputees never seem to enjoy divine intervention.

    “If God were answering the prayers of amputees to regenerate their lost limbs, we would be seeing amputated legs growing back every day,” the Web site declares, adding: “It would appear, to an unbiased observer, that God is singling out amputees and purposefully ignoring them.”

    That site is part of an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive led in part by Professor Dawkins — the Oxford scientist who is author of the new best seller “The God Delusion.” It’s a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism that he and others are proselytizing for.

  11. bernarda says

    pz, your friend Laurence made this link to another interesting area of research.

    “The rise of “superbugs” — bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and cause diseases like staph infection, pneumonia and tuberculosis — is one of the scarier facts of modern life. Untreatable, they are a major health threat in Canadian hospitals, where they kill thousands of people a year, according to health experts. As recently as this month, there were outbreaks of the superbug Clostridium difficile in hospitals in Joliette, Que. and Sault Ste. Marie.

    Now some are saying the solution might come from turning the clock back nearly 100 years and re-examining a once-promising treatment that fell out of favour with the rise of those same antibiotics that are now failing to protect us. Called phage therapy, it was pioneered by a Canadian-born scientist.”

  12. Matthew says

    Which of Attenborough’s series is this from? I don’t remember any totally sweet parasitic fungi scenes in Life in the Undergrowth.

    ::hopes against hope that it’s part of a new parasite-focused series::

  13. jeffw says

    Not too sure why anyone would want to take it but it doesn’t seem to have killed anyone yet so why not, right?

    I use it as an occasional stimulant, but like anything else, it’s effectiveness seems to diminish with too much use. It was fairly potent the first time I took it. Much more so than ginseng or other OTC herbs. Your mileage may vary…

  14. Caledonian says

    Perhaps that strain of fungus induces people to promote it on Internet venues as appropriate.

  15. says

    I think that’s from Attenborough’s new series “Planet Earth”, which is on BBC1 at the moment.

    I saw that particular episode, and it inspired me to write something about it on my blog. The post also mentions horsehair worms, which parasitize terrestrial insects. When the worm is mature, it releases chemicals which alter the host’s geotactic behaviour, inducing it to commit suicide by jumping into water.

  16. Azkyroth says

    Can we engineer a strain that specifically attacks the Culex genus?

    Wait, damn, then the dragonflies and bats starve. Hmm…

  17. llewelly says

    Mind control fungus. Cripes.

    Suppose new evidence strongly indicated that religion was caused by a mind control fungus. Would you be less freaked out or more freaked out? Why?

  18. says

    Freaky indeed.

    I was on the point of eating a Pizza Prosciutto & Fungi … Thank you for ruining my meal.

    Seriously though: Nature’s so cool.

  19. BC says

    I remember an old episode of the X-Files where there was a fungus like this that infected humans (episode “Firewalker”, season 2, episode 9). It disoriented people, and they would try to surround themselves with people just before the fungus exploded out of their bodies (through their necks) and infected everyone around them. I didn’t realize that the writers had probably based their storyline off of a real fungus until I saw this clip.

  20. William Gulvin says

    Rather similar to the Lancet Fluke which also sends an ant up a blade of grass to await being eaten by some herbivore as a part of its astounding life cycle. Perhaps more astounding still is that one Liz Downing wrote and recorded a remarkably interesting song about the Lancet Fluke’s life cycle with her group Radiant Pig on the profoundly intelligent CD “Daily Grace.” One has to order the CD direct from Liz herself , and it’s well worth going to the trouble to do so.

  21. jeff says

    Yes, nature is cool. It’s also horrifying. I’m an atheist and I don’t kid myself with new age bullshit; nonetheless, I find people who only see beauty in the world inhuman. And remember, what happens to the ants happens to you, if only on a longer timescale. (Schopenhauer really dwells on this, if you want more and if you’re morbid and don’t have a job.)

  22. Ichthyic says

    thanks for the link to the Xfiles episode.

    I’m watching it now…

    hmm, seems the fungus originated in the cascades in WA, near the Seattle area…

    that’s it! the human mind control fungus is an invention of the Discovery Institute to convince us all that ID has merit!

    evil bastards!

  23. craig says

    ya know, its not all bad though.

    It would be kinda nifty if flowers popped out of our heads when we died. Think of how different cemeteries would be.

    We would just leave the bodies lying in rows, and you could come back later to see what color Grandma had bloomed into. tend her little garden.

  24. JohnnieCanuck says

    So then what of Toxoplasma gondii?

    From I see claims that “An estimated 60 million people in the US have active cases at any given time.”

    Several studies have shown that infected rats lose their fear reaction to the smell of cat urine.

    “A small minority of people have strong psychological effects from toxoplasmosis, including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.” I wonder how many clinicians would be able to make the diagnosis.

    For most the symptoms are more subtle: “Infected men appeared more jealous and suspicious. Infected women appeared more warm-hearted and outgoing. Both sexes seemed to be more self-reproachful than the control group.”

    Own a cat?

  25. August Pamplona says

    Great clip. Cordyceps powder is available from many health food stores, although I believe most of it is mass-produced hydroponically. I take it sometimes. It has a faint chocolate taste. Not sure exactly what’s in it, but it has a pleasant amphetamine-like effect.

    Cordyceps sinensis, IIRC. It is parasite of the “silkworm”. I believe that you are correct about it being produced in a substrate other than live caterpillars.

  26. August Pamplona says

    I wonder if we might some day become too numerous. Maybe we are there already.

    Ah, but we are. See

    In particular the bit at the end about Coprinus cinereus
    “A man with AIDs cooked some edible Coprinus cinereus to eat. A spore from that mushroom got into his mouth and germinated in an open wound. He had become a substrate. The mushroom mycelium grew through him, and he died. An epidemiologist I spoke with about this case assured me that this will only happen to AIDs patients in a very late stage of the disease. Medicines being taken now to treat HIV/AIDs can prevent this from happening at earlier stages. I guess that’s comfort of a sort. But to die from cooking an edible mushroom! Mushrooms are more complex and more opportunistic than many of us ever give them credit for being. Caveat emptor et collector!”

  27. MrKAT says

    3D-tip: If you keep right eyelids narror or wear sun glass on righ eye, then you see the (rotating) end of the fungi-movie as a fantastic 3-dimensional movie. I’m not gidding. It based on Purkinje-effect (and certain type of rotating).

  28. ledge says

    there’s a lovely Larry Niven short story, “Night on Mispec Moor” about a planet that happens to have a strain of plant or fungus (It’s been quite sime time) that is capable of infecting recently deceased humans and cause them to reanimate, with the goal of infecting as many other lifeforms as possible before it runs your corpse into the ground. (i.e. it turns you into a zombie who wants to kill and reinfect as much stuff as possible) The next day your corpse blossoms with a flower as the parasite reaches maturity.

  29. says


    It would be kinda nifty if flowers popped out of our heads when we died. Think of how different cemeteries would be.

    We would just leave the bodies lying in rows, and you could come back later to see what color Grandma had bloomed into. tend her little garden.

    I’m sure this makes me seem pretty morbid, but this is by far the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

  30. Membrane says

    This was gorgeous – but did anyone have a flashback to Nausicaa?

    I did…then again I only saw the film for the first time yesterday.

    (I wonder if they were aware of the in-joke value of casting Patrick Stewart? I really had to bite my tongue when Nausicaa stabbed Lord Yupa.)

    (And what was the point of slapping an umlaut onto the title when no-one in the movie pronounces it that way?)

  31. says

    Actually, A huge amount of Cordyceps is collected from the wild in the Himalayas. Naturally, the environmental cost is vastly out of proportion to any benefit

  32. says

    Actually, I should add there is a fungus that can do something broadly similar to humans.

    Schizophyllum communis – the split gill mushroom. If your immune system is out of order, theres a very real possibility that this fungus, which under ordinary circumstances only eats dead wood, will grow into fruiting bodies in your nose (at the same time as sinking its mycelia into your sinus, brain, etc)

    make you own jokes about “dead wood = creationist brains” below

  33. MarkG says

    Beautiful camera-work, and good music too. Nature is magical (in a non-woo way!)

    I was somewhat reminded of Jeff Noon’s “Pollen”. It was of course about *plants* using humans as hosts, not fungi, but the imagery was similar.

  34. Anton Mates says

    (And what was the point of slapping an umlaut onto the title when no-one in the movie pronounces it that way?)

    They do pronounce the two “a”‘s very separately in the non-dubbed version.

  35. Wikipedia says

    In ancient Greek literature, Nausicaa (often rendered Nausicaä; Greek: Ναυσικάα …

  36. Gav says

    And coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

    You think someone, or something, isn’t controlling your mind right now, maybe? They’re not your friends.

    Flukes are cool too.

  37. JohnnieCanuck says

    My sister didn’t think so when she found a fluke on her daughter’s pillow. Doctor said she coughed it out of her lungs in her sleep. Kids play in sand boxes but cats have another use for them.

    By cool you did mean freaky, right?

  38. J Daley says

    Species-specific parasitism seems like a woefully inadequate evolutionary strategy – or at least a very risky one – for obvious reasons; similar to any other sort of narrow specialist, one would paint themselves into an overly specific ecological niche rather easily.

    Anyone have any opinions/ideas/reading recommendations on this?

  39. Caledonian says

    Ah, but the fact that there are so much such fungal species suggests that speciation is relatively simple for them. A generally-infective fungus, in addition to being ludicrously implausible and difficult to evolve, would have wiped out all insect species within its reach and died. Only by being specific to particular species can the fungi persist.

  40. says

    J Daley, there are very few generalist endoparasites known. I think it’s because it’s because A) two different lineages will adapt to a parasitic species in their own ways, however subtle or overt the ways may be, whether it’s particular grooming behavior or antibodies, and 2) endoparasites adapt to be species-specific because it tends to be difficult for one endoparasite to infect a different species of host because hosts of different species won’t necessarily interact with each other. This is why many terrestrial species of flukes go through elaborate contrivances to get from one host to another, like the way one species of sheep liver fluke leaves its snail host and form little slime balls on the tips of grass blades, or the way another species of sheep liver fluke leaves its snail host and wait to be eaten by an ant, who then crawls up to the tip of another grass blade to wait to be eaten by a sheep.

  41. William Gulvin says

    Yeah, well, just wait till the IDiots discover the life cycles of many of the parasites. For sure such unlikely contrivances HAVE to be by (un)intelligent design! Of course, the IDiots being parasites themselves in many instances, they may just prefer not talk about it . . .

  42. August Pamplona says

    I do have to wonder how many lost climbers may be found on Mt. Everest with mushrooms growing out of their heads.

  43. gav says

    JohnnieCanuck said “By cool you did mean freaky, right?”

    Well, cool isn’t necessarily nice. It would be an odd parent who didn’t freak out when their kids get infestations although there can be a positive side to it – if it’s particularly gross you can mention it in your speech as and when the child gets married, for example. Your fluke story is a good one.

    I’ve got to confess that I’ve found my own personal parasites fascinating ever since I wrongly self-diagnosed a foot rash as a dermatophytosis and treated it with a topical fungicide. It’s one thing to read about what bacteria can get up to when you remove the competition, but that’s like hearing someone describe a toothache – nothing like experiencing it for yourself. The little beggars must have thought it was Christmas every day, until the penny eventually dropped.

    Hydatid disease is the preferred flatworm infestation in this part of the world. They’re not as cool as flukes – at least I haven’t read they do mind control and gender bending – but they can be just as nasty.

    Even something as simple as removing ticks can be fun too, what with the anticipation and all. What little presents might they have brought with them this time – is that pain in my knee a pulled tendon, or the start of arthritis, or could it be Lyme disease … or, or …. could it be that ticks are a vector for Munchausen’s syndrome, even?

    But it’s good that other people find these things cool in a rather more sensible and systematic way. I guess that’s how we get better prophylaxis and cures.