Scientists have identified a new species of extinct parasite fungi Exploding from the back of 50 million years ant, all well preserved in amber
In addition to the bulbous mushrooms protruding from the ant’s rectum. Evidence of the bizarre fungus can be seen throughout the ill-fated host’s body. The ants likely died from a fungal infection and were accidentally immobilized in tree resin. (which will turn amber) shortly thereafter. It is the oldest example of a fungal parasite ever found in ants.
Researchers name new fungal species Allocordyceps baltica — Allocordyceps means “new surname”; in Greek and baltic Refers to the Baltic region where amber was discovered.
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“Findings of this type are extremely rare,” said George Poinar Jr., an entomologist at Oregon State University, who helped pioneer the extraction. DNA From Amber told LiveScience. “Amber resin contains chemicals that immobilize cells and tissues. It also destroys the associated microorganisms that would normally degrade the sample.”
Poinar said parasitic fungi are rare and difficult to study because of their short life cycles. “But we all have mold in our bodies,” he added.
Insects are good hosts for this type of parasite because they “It’s easy to find and a rich source of nutrients,” Poinar said.
Carpenter ants of the genus CamponotusJust as trapped in amber is a common host of modern parasitic fungi of the genus. Ophiocordycepswhich is in the same order as A. balticaPoinar said: “I was very excited when I learned that these fungi are extending so far.
although A. baltica would be extinct today. Its lineage can evolve into modern times. OphiocordycepsPoinar said that although it has not been genetically proven,
out the back door
The main difference between A. baltica and Ophiocordyceps It’s where their mushrooms emerge from the ants. Mushrooms, or ascomata, serve as the reproductive organs of fungi. by releasing the spores into the environment Ophiocordyceps The fungus grows ascomata around the neck and head of the host ant. The fungus hijacks the host ant’s brain in a form of mind control. The fungus is used to force ants to bite into plants where other carpenter ants lay their eggs. This allows the fungi to release their spores in areas of high concentrations of potential new hosts.
not clear why A. baltica Instead, it extends its ascomata through the anus of the ant, although Poinar suspects it may have left the fungus to keep its host alive for a long time. This means there is more time for the spores to spread.
Poinar said: “The rectum is already open while the fungus must penetrate the head capsule to emerge through the head. “It will allow the ant to live for a few more days. because when the fungus enters the ant’s head, the ant dies.”
Although the ascomata of reproduction emerge through the anus of fossilized ants, But there is evidence that the fungus spread throughout the ant’s body. Stromata – hard plates of the vegetative part of the fungus called the mycelium – can be seen protruding from the ant on the abdomen and back of the neck. And the researchers also found reproductive spores in the abdomen and throat.
This would “almost certainly” lead to a slow and frightening time for infected ants, Poinar said.
“As a Haifa [the branching filaments of mycelium] spread throughout the body It would be like cancer,” Poinar said, “but transform the tissue into fungal phases instead of cancer cells.”
Originally published on Live Science.