Fungi and Insects – Relationships that are Mutualistic and Deadly

I have a lot to learn on this topic, since I am not a trained Mycologist. This topic is quite in-depth and I am barely going to even scratch the surface in this post. I wanted to share some of the limited knowledge (and photos) that I have gathered based on my observations while spending time in nature.

Deadly Relationships between Fungi and Insects

It seems normal for mushrooms to be a source of food for animals and insects alike. What if that was reversed? What if there were fungi that attacked and killed insects? As you probably guessed, there actually are. The Cordyceps Genus of Fungi has hundreds of different varieties and they each attack a specific type of insect.

Moth with Akanthomyces

Moth with Akanthomyces – The asexual stage of a Cordyceps species

Moth with Akanthomyces

Moth with Akanthomyces – The asexual stage of a Cordyceps species

One particular variety infects ants with spores that use chemicals to make the ants climb high above the jungle floor before it eventually kills them. This lofty position provides the best location for it to spread more spores to more ants in order to keep the cycle going. Here is a video that talks more about this variety.

The key to identify the Cordyceps species is to identify its host. The photos below could be a variety of different options, but unfortunately I did not dig down to uncover what it was attached to, so I am unable to complete the identification.

Cordyceps Species

An unknown Cordyceps species (Munich, Germany)

Cordyceps Species

An unknown Cordyceps species (Munich, Germany)

Here are a few blurry cellphone photos of a fungus attacking a Harvestman (AKA Daddy-longlegs). I saw this while hiking at Boyce Mayview Park.

Two other species were found in Ohio during a group hike in the Mohican-Memorial State Forest. They were very similar but their hosts were different. Cordyceps militaris is attached to a butterfly pupae and Cordyceps cardinalis is attached to a butterfly larvae. See Cordyceps militaris photos below:

Here are the photos of the Cordyceps cardinalis


Mutualistic Relationships

Now that we have covered the interesting but deadly relationship of Fungi to Insects, we can look at a couple mutualistic relationship examples. I took these photos in Western Pennsylvania

Example #1: Glowing Mushrooms and Nighttime insects

As we know, mushroom colonies grow in size when more spores are released and are transported to their new resting place by wind or by insect/animal. Some mushrooms are bioluminescent and they glow at night. Insects that are attracted by the glow, end up being the transportation system for millions of spores that end up coating them. A couple examples of glowing mushrooms in Western Pennsylvania are Omphalotus illudens and Panellus stipticus. You can find out more information through a previous post entitled “FEATURED FUNGI – BIOLUMINESCENT MUSHROOMS IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA

Example #2: The Cryptoporus volvatus and the Pine Bark Borer Beetle

This polypore mushroom – found on pine trees – is quite interesting in that it has an outer shell that traps the spores inside until they are ready to be spread in a unique way. The Pine Bark Beetle finds its way inside the shell through a “trap door” in the bottom. While inside this shell, it breeds and feeds in the mushroom and subsequently gets covered in millions of spores. Later, it leaves the shell and drills a hole into the pine tree in order to lay its eggs. During that process, the beetle inadvertently “plants” the spores (that are coating its body) inside the tree, enabling a new mushroom to form at a later date in that spot.

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