Erupting zombie fungus is organizing a unique science photography contest

A parasitic fungus exploding from the body of its host took home this year’s top prize BMC Ecology and Evolution photography competition, a unique competition organized by scientists and designed to highlight in a creative way the connections between different species.

The competition spans four simple categories: Relationships in Nature, Biodiversity Under Threat, Living Up Close and Research in Action. Winners are judged by senior members of the editorial board of BMC Ecology and Evolution diary.

“Our senior editorial board members used their expertise to ensure that the winning images were chosen both for the scientific stories behind them and for the technical quality and beauty of the images themselves,” explained editor Jennifer Harman. “As such, the competition very much reflects BMC’s ethos of innovation, curiosity and integrity.”

Winner in the Action Research category. Researchers conduct fieldwork during thunderstorms in the COVID-19 pandemic

Jefferson Ribeiro Amaral

The top prize this year went to evolutionary biologist Roberto García-Roa for an incredible shot taken in the Peruvian jungle of Tambopata. The image illustrates how a mind-controlling parasitic fungus erupts from its host’s body after reaching its optimal growth site.

“The image depicts a conquest that has been shaped by thousands of years of evolution,” explained Garcia-Roa. “The spores of the so-called ‘zombie’ fungus have penetrated the fly’s exoskeleton and consciousness and forced it to migrate to a location more favorable for the growth of the fungus. The fruiting bodies are then erupted from the fly’s body and will be expelled to infect more victims.

Winner in the Relationships in Nature category. Waxwings feed on fermented rowan berries


Winning the Relationships in Nature category was an amazing example of plant-bird interaction. The shot depicts a bohemian waxwing feasting on rowan berries. The availability of these sought-after fruits influences annual bird migrations. And sometimes the high ethanol content of the fruit means that the birds have developed larger-than-average livers to process the fruit.

“Although this connection is extremely beneficial for seed dispersal, it does not come without a cost to the birds,” explained photographer Alvin Hardenball. “When the fruits become overripe, they begin to ferment and produce ethanol that intoxicates the Waxwings, sometimes leading to problems for the birds, even death. Not surprisingly, waxwings have evolved to have relatively large livers to cope with their involuntary alcoholism.”

Highly rated entry. Bioluminescent fungi in the rainforests of Borneo

Julian Schrader

Check out our gallery for more highlights from this wonderful photography contest.

source: BMC Ecology and Evolution

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