Entomopathogenic fungi: a gift from God the sadist?

August 16, 2007 | By | 3 Replies More

Is it beautiful to see spores sneak into an ant’s trachea, then creep into the ant’s brain where they take over, driving the ant to insanity, causing the ant to crawl to the top of a blade of grass, where the fungi destroys the remainder of the ant’s brain, then sprouts fruiting bodies right out through what remains of the ant’s head?

I don’t remember ever hearing that any sentimental songs were ever written about this entirely natural dance of life featuring fungi motherhood.  

I first heard of this process a few years ago when I watched one of David Attenborough’s incredible documentaries.  You’ll find an excerpt of a relevant Attenborough video here at Neurophilosophy, along with a brief written explanation of the fungus’ cycle of life.

This insect exploitation is a good example to keep ready for the next time someone irks you with the claim that everything in nature is “beautiful” in a Bambi eats strawberries sort of way.  

I do think nature is beautiful, but that beauty is better captured in the way that nature is exquisitely calibrated in a fine-grained sometimes warlike hard-to-watch type of equilibrium.  

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Category: Meaning of Life, Science, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Ebonmuse says:

    Carl Zimmer over at The Loom does a great job writing about disgustingly amazing parasites of all kinds. His latest post is about the Ichneumonidae, the order of parasitic wasps that gave Darwin himself problems with theodicy.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    The above post reminds me of the evangelical Christian notion of "intelligent design." For instance, I keep wondering how "intelligent" it is for humans to be one of the few animals capable of choking to death on food: other animals have more appropriately designed throats that prevent food from becoming lodged in the windpipe. Seems an odd gaff for God's favored species to have such a defect.

  3. Xiaogou says:

    I know in the bubblegum culture we grow up in, it is easy to say, "How gross!" But what it does not prepare one for life. I have seen people, when they were told to clean the toilet, say, "That's not fair!" or when they are not allowed to eat at exactly 12:30 p.m., they say “I have to go to lunch, I am starving.”

    Fair is a difficult term as in our culture it is used to compare oneself with an ideal that is higher than what is reasonable. Reasonable, is that it is not at all unfair. Reality is that fair is that we are to do without television, computers, cars except for a few days a week (most of the world does without these things all their life if not by communal ownership.) I know of my friends’ families goes to the common house a few times a week and everyone in the village sit around and watch a few hours of television. My friend calls me once a week from the village phone as no one there has a phone. Then once or twice a week everyone in the village that wants to go shopping at the mall climbs into the village bus and they all drive into the nearest city to shop for things they cannot get at the village market. If we are fair most of us will be crying for the rest of our lives.

    Starving is a concept that most Americans do not know about. To spend all day to sell a few trinkets to tourists and buy a cup of rice with the few pennies they earn and sit around the table to have the only real meal that the family will have for the day. A family of 8 eats one meal that consists of pot of rice soup and a few vegetables and fruits. If we were actually starving we will put the diet pill companies out of business. (and perhaps a lot of doctors as well.)

    So, when one sees the world as it is when one ponders on the struggles of an ant and the fungus, can one appreciate the beauty of the life and death struggles that surround us. It is as my friend, not so eloquently, says “We are not the daisy eating hippies of the 60’s and 70’s. “

    I am not sure how does this make God a sadist?

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