“Zombie flies” discovered by scientists in Denmark, Science News

The last thing we needed in 2020 was zombie flies, but in true 2020 style we have it! Two new species of fungi have been found in Denmark that infect flies and then excrete the spores from the abdomen.

The spores are reportedly ejected as small flares from the fly’s body. The two new mushroom species survive on their hosts, until they die.

“Strongwellsea tigrinae” and “Strongwellsea acerosa” can only be found in two Danish fly species: “Coenosia tigrina” and “Coenosia testacea”, say researchers at the University of Copenhagen.

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Most fungi undertake the sporing process after the host has died, but these two peculiar types live on for days. Its host, totally unaware of what is happening, continues to mingle with other flies. However, the fungus then begins to consume her genitals, followed by her fat stores. Over time, it then absorbs its reproductive organs followed by the muscles.

While all of this is happening, the fungus continues to shoot spores in an attempt to continue infecting the flies. Fast forward to a few days later: the infected fly now lies on its back, spasms for a few hours and then dies.

It is unusual to keep the host alive while releasing the spores and is called active host transmission (AHT). Scientists believe it is effective in finding future hosts.

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But it gets more disturbing, as scientists believe the mushrooms produce performance-enhancing substances that essentially turn their hosts into zombies, allowing them to live while the mushroom feeds on their guts, one by one.

The research was undertaken by the University of Copenhagen in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Denmark and was published in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology.

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In a healthy population of flies, only 3-5% are infected. The problem is identifying the infection, as the host shows no direct signs.