A new study shows that a creepy parasitic fungus transforms necrophiles into ‘zombies’ by emitting a powerful chemical. 

Researchers in Denmark discovered that the Entomophthora species of fungus, Entomophthora mucae, releases a powerful mix of fungal compounds after it infects a female housefly. 

Healthy male houseflies respond to the interesting mix of chemical compounds by mating the dead zombie female, which ensures the spread of the fungus. 

E. muscae infects houseflies. It penetrates their skin, spreads spores throughout their bodies, and then kills them in five to 7 days. 

A fly killed by the killed by Entomophthora muscae fungus, a marionette on a string, to spew spores from their abdomen

A fly killed by the killed by Entomophthora muscae fungus, which ascend to a high point and spread their wings to spew spores from their abdomen


Entomophthora meccae infects houseflies and penetrates their skin.

It grows throughout the flies’ bodies, digesting their guts and killing them in five–seven days.

The fungi can even hijack the insects’ brains — forcing them to land on a surface and crawl upwards to give the parasite a better shot at spreading. 

The fungi on the fly corpse produces spore cannons that infect other flies.

The fungus infects both male and female houseflies, but the new study, led by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, looked at the effect of female infection to attract male flies. 

The scientists gave male flies the option to mate with infected and non-infected dead females. 

“Healthy males are attracted by fungus-killed corpsvers [dead bodies]The authors state that courtship and mating efforts can increase the risk of fungal infection in new hosts and thereby increase the transmission of the pathogen. 

“Infection with E. Muscae causes changes in volatile chemistry that attract houseflies by altering the levels cuticular fly hydrocarbons as well as by producing unusual volatile compounds.  

Sesquiterpenes are a class of chemicals that have never been associated with house flies. 

Sesquiterpenes have already been found to be attractive in several other insects, the researchers report, including the Asian honey bee and bumblebees. 

Previous studies have shown that E..muscae is capable of infecting a host of insects with a brutal and relentless manner. Its genus name, Entomophthora translates to ‘destroyer of insects’ – and it’s no surprise why. 

Once infected, spores called conidia are produced from the fly – a process called sporulation. 

E. muscae causes flies t to rise to a high point, spread their wings like marionettes on a string, and eventually to spew the spores out of their swollen abdomen.

The fungus infects the fruit fly’s nervous systems and forces it to climb the fatal climb, also known as “summit disease”, before eventually devouring its brain and muscles.

Entomophthora muscae turns its victim into a zombie. Once infected, E. muscae causes flies to ascend to a high point and spread their wings like a marionette on a string, to spew spores from their swollen abdomen

Entomophthora.muscae makes its victim a living, breathing zombie. E. muscae infects flies and causes them to rise to a high point, spread their wings like marionettes on a string, and then spew spores out of their swollen abdomens.

The fungi forms a series of micro-sized stalks from the corpse of the fly after it is dead. Each one is a pressure cannon filled with liquid and a spore that can then be ejected.

Unfortunate male flies are attracted to ‘zombie’ female fly corpses – and when they accidentally trigger the cannons, they end up coated in a spray of infectious spores.

This ensures that the fungalspores are spread as widely as possible, so that the horrifying process can occur again.  

Researchers now show that it’s not just the altered appearance and size of the dead fly that attracts males, but also the potent compounds that act as a kind of love potion.

On the fly corpse, the fungi grows an array of tiny spore cannons to infect other flies that come nearby

The fungi that lives on the fly corpse creates a number of tiny spore guns to infect any other flies near it.

Researchers gave male flies the option of mating with ‘early-killed’ dead females (equivalents to an early sporulation phase) or ‘late-killed’ dead females in a laboratory setting. 

They found a significant increase in mating attempts when the dead female was in a late stage of sporulation – a crafty trick to maximise chances of further infection. 

The team explained that close contact in the late stage of infection increases the likelihood of fungal transmission. This happens because there is more infectious conidia than at the beginning stage, where conidiophores are still maturing. 

Results also showed that 73 per cent of male flies had become infected after exposure to the late killed flies, compared to 15 per cent of males exposed to early killed flies.  

Genome analysis also revealed that late-killed patients had higher levels of key enzymes that trigger the production and release of many compounds, including ‘long chained alcohols’ and ‘esters’.   

It is possible that the release of chemicals during infection and the initial volatile attraction of fungus’s next victim could be related to food.

The team says that the negative effects on mating suggest that male houseflies feed off the conidia around them rather than being stimulated by mate-making. 

This research is described as a preprint and will be peer-reviewed on bioRxiv. 


A parasitic fungus can turn carpenter-ants into ‘zombies’, according to a 2018 study. 

The fungus has been known to infect carpenter-ant colonies and cause them to cling to hanging plants. From there, they can dangle for months until they release spores.

Researchers at Penn State University discovered that zombie ants can bite on different parts of plants.

According to the study this is because the choice in leaves or twigs comes down to the local climate. And as the conditions change, the molds have had to adapt.

David P. Hughes, Penn State associate professor of biology and entomology, says that zombie ants are more common in tropical regions than in temperate ones. However, they will bite leaves in temperate areas while biting bark or twigs.

The species-specific fungi which infect zombie ants can be found all over the globe, except Europe.

However, in Germany, the discovery of a fossilized ant zombie indicates that they once lived there and probably went extinct.

The spores from the fungus infect ants and cause them to become sick. They then cling onto their bodies and use the fungus for food.

The fungus grows inside the ant, eventually becoming able to control its movements. It forces it to climb up into the branches and then bite down to hold on.

As they are mostly evergreen, tropical forest leaves provide leaves for them all year. Temperate forests on the other hand, tend to drop their leaves in fall.

Raquel G Loreto is a postdoctoral scholar in Entomology at Penn State.

“But in high temperature areas, trees are deciduous. They lose their leaves in fall. The ants will eat the twigs.

The fossil discovered in Germany is estimated at 47 million years old. The ant bit on a leaf in the evergreen forest.

As the climate changed over the many millennia as temperate forests grew and the climate changed, the fungi evolved to keep twigs or bark.

Loreto said that some ants don’t simply bite the twigs. They wrap their back legs around a twig and hold onto it. They probably do this because they don’t have enough strength to bite the twigs.

The researchers looked at three different areas to determine how the behavior of zombie ants differed in the study.

While leaf biting was the ancestral trait, the researchers determined that twig biting convergently evolved at different times and different places around the world – North America and Japan.

They also reported that leg wrapping and twig biting were independently developed.