A Mexican Biologist Comes Across a Parasitic Fungus - Observation of the Week, 10/23/19

Our Observation of the Week is this parasitic fungus, seen in Mexico by @dianafr!

“I was always a very curious person,” says Diana Laura Fuentes de la Rosa, a biologist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. That plus her professors who “shared with me their fascination and passion about all living things in the world” led her to study biology. Her main interests now are ecology and the conservation of terrestrial vertebrates. So of course, her observation of a fungus on an invertebrate is chosen as Observation of the Week. But the strangely beautiful tableau seen above was discovered while Diana was out looking for amphibians.

“When I was doing my field work in the Lacandona Jungle for my bachelor degree thesis I was just searching leaf litter frogs (genus Craugastor),” she recalls. “When suddenly I saw a strange larva in front of me on the forest floor. I picked it up, remembered my fungi lessons, and had no doubt on taking the picture.”

What she found was the larva of a scarab beetle that had been parasitized and killed by a fungus. There looks to be some disagreement on exactly which fungus this might be (if you know, please add an ID and comment!) but in general these fungi will attack a host animal and eventually sprout fruiting bodies (what we see here) out of the host, to spread more spores. Famously, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis parasitizes ants and changes their behavior so it can spread its spores.

“I mainly use iNaturalist to ease identification and register every species that crosses my way,” says Diana (above), “[and] I definitely think that iNaturalist changed my way to see our natural world. 

Since I became a member of this community I got into the habit of registering everything I see and I became more interested in plants, insects and fungi. Furthermore, I now think  that citizen science has surpassed our expectations of what it was capable of...it is a novel key tool for monitoring endangered, endemic and invasive species.

Some of Diana’s quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

- BBC’s segment depicting Ophiocordyceps infecting ants is a classic.

- Fly death fungus is also a thing!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, October 23, 2019 20:05



que genial!!! Que afortunada es Diana!

Posted by diegoalmendras about 2 months ago (Flag)

Parasitic fungi are fascinating! This is a great choice for OotW.

Posted by mws about 2 months ago (Flag)

Wow -- what a fabulous shot of a great subject!

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 months ago (Flag)

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