Moth infected with zombie fungus

zombie moth - insect infected with Cordyceps fungus

Poor Zombie Moth!

This moth has a fungus!  Spotted by the CFC on a hike near Cook Trail, this moth was identified by a PA Bureau of Forestry entomologist as likely having been infected with a Cordyceps fungus.

What this means for our hapless moth friend is – ultimately- mind control, followed by death.    

“When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue,” which sounds incredibly unpleasant.   And apparently, the host/ victim has a slim shot at self-defense once infected, as “entomopathogenic fungi… have many novel strategies to escape or suppress host immune responses.” 

More creepily yet, Cordyceps is known to have the ability to control an insect‚Äôs end-of-life wanderings, which it benefits from by increasing the likelihood that its spores are dispersed to new hosts.”  This explains our moth’s forced death-march up the tree trunk to a height optimal for re-infection of other critters.  Such mind-control behavior can be illustrated in infected ants – see the National Geographic video below.

These fungi are so effective, they’re used as a bio-control agent against forest and farm pests: 

Entomopathogenic fungi are the most abundant type of microorganisms that infects insects. […] As the natural pathogens of a variety of insects, entomopathogenic fungi can be environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical insecticides for biological pest control.

Learn more / Sources:

Cordyceps comprise a number of species, and we’re not able to distinguish which might be infecting our Cook Forest moth.  

All Cordyceps are members of the Kingdom of Fungi, as follows:

  • Phylum:  Ascomycota
  • Class: Sordariomycetes
  • Order: Hypocreales
  • Family: Cordycipitaceae
  • Genus: Cordyceps

Etymology: Cordyceps is from the Greek, meaning “club head”

CFC zombie moth - insect infected with Cordyceps fungus
he’s not supposed to be so spiky – that’s the fungus