Mutant Cornstalks and Zombie Ants

Once upon a time, I was perusing the internet and stumbled upon a 1980s documentary about the strange habits of fungi. This led to the discovery of a particularly sinister variety: Ophiocordyceps, AKA the Zombie Ant Fungus. (2023 Update: Yes, this is the same fungus in the new HBO series, The Last of Us. I’ve yet to see it, but know the show is based on a video game of the same name).

Behold the horror of a carpenter ant infected by Ophiocordyceps.

While zombies are a staple in sci-fi movies, this parasitic species is the real deal and was a major inspiration for The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. Carpenter ants infected by Ophiocordyceps grow hideously ugly stalks from the back of their little heads. These fungal stalks seize control of the ants’ nervous systems, and force the poor ants to bite down on a leaf near their colony. After that, the bulb at the top of the stalk bursts and rains down infectious spores on the rest of the colony, making legions more zombies in one fell swoop. Insidious, right? I thought so too and wondered what it would be like if Ophiocordyceps didn’t just infect ants, but an entire town. One question led to another and thus The Mutant Mushroom Takeover was born.

Nature can be creepy but it’s also brimming with wonder and curiosity-inspiring morsels. And sometimes they’re one in the same.

Today, my kids drew some art inspired by The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I particularly love the mutant cornstalk my daughter added and the spores raining down over a town drawn by my son. These are rough times, people.

When Ophiocordyceps comes to visit, even the butterflies can’t be trusted.
The mushroom apocalypse is upon us.

You can find out more about the Zombie Ant fungus here or grab a copy of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover to see what happens when it attacks a small Texas town and the last line of defense is an 11-year-old aspiring naturalist and her YouTuber and alien conspiracy theorist best friend. You’ll never see mushrooms the same way again!

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