Cordyceps Militaris | The Zombie Fungus

Cordyceps Militaris | The Zombie Fungus

The whole fungal realm may sound weird, in large part because of how little we know about them yet. Within that enigmatic realm, the prize for strangest mushroom of all weird mushrooms certainly has to go to the genus of the cordyceps.

Like something from sci-fi, these otherworldly mushrooms eat insects, whose bodies they inhabit. These glowing orange mushrooms basically possess and control their insect hosts as marionette puppets. It is not surprising that these fungal oddities have earned the nickname of the Puppet Masters Mushroom.

What else should you know about these strange, awesome, unique mushrooms? They are just as useful as they are strange. Dig in and find out why cordyceps militaris is one of our favorite mushrooms.

What Are Cordyceps Militaris Mushrooms?

Cordyceps militaris is a fungus that is native to Asia, where it has been found in spectacularly high elevations. It is also known as “the Scarlet Caterpillar” because of its bright colors and spindly appearance. This Scarlet Caterpillar Mushroom was first named in 1753 by Carl Linneaus, the “father of the theory of classification”, after discovering it growing in the wild.

This particular species is mostly found sprouting their orange, coral-like fruiting bodies on prairies or on woodland edges in the late summer and fall seasons. It grows to lengths of between 1.25 inches and 2 inches.

Historically and currently, cordyceps militaris has been coveted for its health-related attributes. Although various species of Cordyceps exist throughout the world, Cordyceps militaris is most famous due to its usage in Traditional Chinese Herbalism. It has been added to food dishes and steeped in teas as a way of supporting healthy endurance and energy at a cellular level.

Most importantly, this mushroom is an entomopathogen, meaning that it parasitizes insects. “So, you are telling me this mushroom mumps insects and has a function?”. Yes, this is totally true, and the reason why we think Cordyceps militaris is one of the most interesting mushrooms that we have ever encountered, and continue to be blown away by everything it can do.

But rest assured, the Cordyceps that we use in our products are not using insects, and are grown in a vegan-friendly substrate. No insects are harming anything by growing our mushrooms.

How Does Cordyceps Take Over An Insect ?

Cordyceps militaris mushrooms are basically parasites of the mushroom. Like most living organisms, the goal of the cordyceps is one of reproduction, and carrying on its genetics while doing so.

But just how does this fungus keep its prey in check? For a long time, scientists were puzzled. But thanks to a recent Penn State study, we now have a much better idea of how Cordyceps militaris is able to take over its insect victims bodies.

Cordyceps militaris uses its thorn-like hyphae to ensnare the insect from the inside. These finely folded hyphae spread, and then start to multiply to create a mycelia of mushrooms. This process slows down and mummifies the insects inside.

But it is how mycelia (“mushroom roots”) build up structures around a hosts brain, which allows them to hijack its motor functions. Around the brain, Cordyceps mycelia ingest nutrients from the surrounding areas of the brain, all the while communicating with each other. This web of communication, along with a lack of nutrients, disconnects the hosts brain from their own body.

With the death of the hosts brain, mycelium was able to “drive” the host. The biomass from mycelium ultimately replaces the tissue of the host.

Meanwhile, Cordyceps fruiting bodies create the “spore factory” of mushrooms. Spores are like seeds in the world of plants. Inherently microscopic, spores are what enable mushrooms to keep reproducing.

What Happens to an Ant Infected by Cordyceps Mushrooms?

Once a cordyceps militaris has taken hold of a host organism, it begins moving toward a perfect location for sporulation. Often, the host bug is buried in soil or in a well-decomposed piece of wood, and then the mushroom will spawn from the stem, which looks like an orange bat. When dealing with the other species of cordyceps, insects that are infected on top of soil are usually driven into areas elevated off of it. These locations include the bottoms of leaves. This is a favorable location for a cordyceps, as it allows the mushroom to rain down its spores on top of the soil, colonizing the most susceptible insects.

One of the best-known examples of a zombie insect and brain-controlling mushroom is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis and carpenter ants. This species turns the ants into zombies, with a mission to scale plants and bury its maw in leaves. From there, the fungus can latch onto a leaf, dropping its spores onto the unaware colony beneath, creating a whole legion of zombie ants.

Is Cordyceps Militaris Bad for the Environment?

Parasites generally get a bad reputation, particularly the ones that invade the bodies of victims. However, they are a natural part of the ecosystem. When left in the natural environment, a balance exists between fungi and the insects that feed on them. In fact, excessive harvesting of these mushrooms from their natural habitats can destroy biodiversity and endanger the populations of cordyceps.

Cordyceps Militaris Mushroom is Great for Your Health

Despite the fact that they are naturally deadly for insects, cordyceps have an array of health benefits for humans.

What Are Cordyceps Militaris Health Benefits?

Cordyceps militaris mushrooms can be used to maintain energy levels, endurance, and healthy pulmonary function. Adenosine is used by the body to regulate heart rhythms and balance metabolic energy. Farms are focused on growing militaris cordyceps mushrooms in ways that will not hurt insects.

Insects are, after all, the lifeblood of an ecosystem, and we honor the natural balance of the natural world. While we like this species of mushroom for its relatively easy to grow, its unique shapes and colors, and impressive health benefits, however, we are not fond of its meat-eating habits. So, we were able to grow it on a vegan substrate. No bugs are used at our facilities.

Instead, we use only fully certified organic and vegan ingredients. One of the strangest creatures in nature has proven itself a useful, life-giving substance, and it is finally available for Western audiences.

We even have a pet name for them and their spores. We refer to the cordyceps as the “alien Cheetos” and the spores as the “cheeto dust”. You will notice that our tincture of Cordyceps has some glimmer, like the one you get from cooking turmeric. This vibrancy mirrors the luminous nature of the Scarlet Butterfly Mushroom. Plus, we thought it was fitting of the kind of vibrancy that can be brought into your life.

About the author

Bruce Wilson

I've studied Mycology and Forest Pathology and love creating content to help other learn more about my passion. Follow along as I continue to explore the amazing world of functional fungi!

Copyright © 2022. All Rights Reserved. Information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for individual medical advice. Results may vary. Featured products Label information subject to change. Please check the label of your product for up-to-date information. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The featured products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Links to products featured on this site will help us earn a commission, if purchased. This helps us continue to create new content and pay website expenses. We appreciate your support!