BIO 203


     Ophiocordyceps unilateralis enjoys a warmer habitat and is normally found in tropical environments (Hughes 2010). The fungus may be found in warm temperate forests, but is more commonly found in tropical forests in Thailand, Brazil, Central America, and Africa (Cordyceps 2013). O. unilateralis requires a habitat with large forests likely abundant with its main food source, the ants it infects and kills. Since the subspecies of O. unilateralis each have their own species of ant that they infect, the habitat will depend on where the specific hosts are located (Hughes 2010). This would explain why the fungus is able to live in many different tropical regions.
    The zombie ant fungus elicits a very specific response once in control of the host ant (Hughes 2010). This response is to direct the ant away from its nest and to have it find an area best suited for fungal reproduction (Than 2011). The majority of fungus-sprouting ants were found in areas with temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees celsisus (Than 2011).  The conditions described would be well suited for fungal growth, and it is quite amazing how the fungus has the ability to manipulate the ant to find an area with such conditions.
    The infection mainly occurs in the understory roughly 25 centimeters from the soil (Hughes 2010). The ants are normally high in the canopy, but certain ants deviate from the normal trail and fall to the understory. Once in the understory, the ants quickly become infected and stay in this cool, moist environment (Hughes 2010). The conditions of the understory are perfect for fungal growth, and once the host species moves to the understory for food it can become infected.
    A recent study has shown that O. unilateralis has been interacting with insects for millions of years (Hughes 2010). In an article by David Hughes a fossil sample was found in The Messel Pit in Hesse, Germany that showed the bite marks in leaves, a characteristic unique to the interactions between the zombie ant fungus and its host ant (Hughes 2010). The fossil site dates back to 48 million years ago showing that the fungus has moved its habitat over time (Hughes 2010).

The rainforests are host to a variety of different organisms. To learn more about the rainforest and the organisms that call it home, click here!



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