The Cordyceps

Just listen to the name: the Cordyceps. To me, that falls squarely in Triffid territory. It sounds as unsettling as it is. Those of us who saw Planet Earth (see clip below) could be excused for turning away at the segment where the Cordyceps fungus slowly sprouts from the head of a helpless ant riddled with white threads of fungal mycelium and controlled like a puppet. It’s like something out of the X-files. In fact, it’s like something out of the X-files episode ‘Firewalker’, for those of us old enough to remember hiding behind the sofa during those particular scenes with the throat-bursting fungus..?

The connection between a flesh-invading, mind-controlling fungus and zombie lore is so obvious it is barely worth pointing out. Fictitious variants of Cordyceps have made their mark on popular culture, with games such as The Last of Us and M.R.Carey’s excellent novel ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’. This means that Cordyceps belongs to the category of horrors that deal with predation and contagions/infection, which are incidentally the two features most reliably associated with successful horror films*. And of course there’s the element of death drawn out in stages of increasing terror, from the initial infection of the tissues, to the loss of the mind, down to the literal spike through the head. Now, that’s an existential horror to consider.

The Cordyceps clip is on YouTube in all its gruesome glory. The music lends it that extra creepiness, in case mind-controlling, brain-bursting flesh-eating fungi is not bad enough. Sir David explains better than I ever could:

Here’s the music without the commentary:

 

* Reference: Davis, H. & Javor, A. (2004). Religion, death and horror movies. Some striking evolutionary parallels. Evolution and Cognition, 10, 11–18.

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4 thoughts on “The Cordyceps

  1. I really feel as if I should leave a lengthy and well-informed comment on this as something of a biologist myself, but all I’ve got is WOW. And maybe, “Holy shit I hope these things don’t adapt to human hosts!” But of course, the story-mind is already plotting…

    Thanks so much for posting this. Fabulous. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, they’re fantastic creatures, and I find the mind control particularly interesting. I know there has been talk of parasites having mind-altering effects on humans too, such as the Toxoplasma gondii parasite (this paper if you’re interested – I think it’s open access), but Cordyceps is truly something special.

      If your plotting results in a story, let me know? I’d love to see your take on this particular brand of gruesome! Somehow, I’m now stuck with a combination of Cordyceps and Hitchcock’s The Birds in my head, and it is wonderfully terrifying.

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  2. […] rational discourse or negotiation, that makes the zombie frightening. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, predation and contagions/infection are the two categories of horror that tend to generate the most […]

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  3. […] have written before about some of the mind-controlling horrors in nature and how they relate to our modern monsters, […]

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