Frightful Mindsuckers

Parasite-NG-cover-550Just in time for Halloween, the November issue of National Geographic is capitalizing on the current fad for zombies and features an article on the fascinating world of parasitic organisms. Written by the parasite-obsessed Carl Zimmer, the article looks at the ‘mindsuckers’ of crabs, house crickets, lady beetles, amphipods, frogs and ants. While none of these delightful parasitic associations were new to me, what stood out in this online article is the amazing photography, which goes well beyond the natural-look we have come to expect from NG and runs full tilt into the super-natural. Take this cordyceps-ridden ant for instance…

Nat Geo

Ophiocordyceps fungus Ophiocordyceps sp. and the Amazonian ant Dinoponera longipes. PHOTOGRAPH BY ANAND VARMA; DAVID HUGHES LAB, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

From the text accompanying the image in the online photo gallery:

“Pity the ant afflicted by the mindsucker Ophiocordyceps. When spores of the fungus land on an ant, they penetrate its exoskeleton and enter its brain, compelling the host to leave its normal habitat on the forest floor and scale a nearby tree. Filled to bursting with fungus, the dying ant fastens itself to a leaf or another surface. Fungal stalks burst from the ant’s husk and rain spores onto ants below to begin the process again.”

In the above image, photographer Anand Varma has subdued the visibility of the ant and used selective lighting to highlight the fungal bodies. The wisp-like smoke effect, perhaps accentuated with a long exposure, represents (or is?) the release of spores. The single focused spot of light, appearing to emanate from the eye is a dramatic and creative touch — you won’t see it this way in nature! This will be a keeper magazine for me, as much for Carl Zimmer’s passionate writing as for the creativity revealed in the photographs, all of which deserve a closer look (“reverse engineering”) to see just how the photographer achieved those special effects.

Read the full article online at Mindsuckers–Meet Nature’s Nightmare, where you can also find a video and an interactive graphic novella series.



This entry was posted in Art, Autumn, Bugs, Formicidae, Hymenoptera, Insect, macro, National Geographic, Parasitism, photography, Season and tagged , .

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