Readers’ wildlife photos

March 18, 2023 • 8:15 am

Tony Eales from Australia has sent us some insects and spiders fatally infected with parasitic fungus. TRIGGER WARNING: ARTHROPOD DEATH!  His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

With the TV show The Last of Us and its fungi infected zombie antagonists in the zeitgeist, I thought I’d send through some pics of entomopathogenic fungi that I haven’t sent before.

This first one is either icing sugar fungus or a close relative, Beauveria sp. infecting a native wood cockroach (Family Ectobiidae) of some sort. It was hard to tell if the picture was in focus or not with the diffuse fuzzy nature of the fungus

Next might be a fungus in the family Entomophthoraceae. This family generally infect flies and other dipterans but there is a genus that specialises in cicadas, Massospora spp. Perhaps this is related? The host cicada is  or Frog Cicada.

Both the previous fungi I found in the tropical rainforests of North Queensland. The rest of these are from the subtropical areas around Brisbane, southeast Queensland.

Here we have the more typical form and host of Entomorpthoraceae, one of the fly-death fungus species complex. They are easily recognised by the way the light-coloured fungi bursts from between the darker abdominal tergites forming a striped look to the dead fly.

The rest of the fungi are in the family Cordycipitaceae as was the Icing Sugar Fungi up top.

Since I spend a lot of time looking for hidden and well camouflaged spiders, I come across a lot of  Gibellula ssp. This group of fungi really like spiders and I am presuming that the hosts in all of these following five pictures are small spiders of one sort or another (although with some it’s very hard to tell).

The only one that I can ID to species is the last one. This unfortunate is a male Green Jumping SpiderMopsus mormon, the largest jumping spider in Australia and common garden resident in subtropical areas.
Next is what I suspect is Hirsutella sp. I really can’t tell much about the host but I have seen Hirsutella on planthoppers before and the location under a leaf would be consistent with this group.

And lastly Ophiocordyceps dipterigena, another species that targets flies. I often found it on robber flies perched out on the end of twig in drier forests in SE Queensland.

15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Amazing photos, and what striking images those fungal infestations produce. Tinea pedis (or cruris) is bad enough…imagine if it were progressive and eventually fatal in humans as the fungi in these arthropods is. Of course, severely ill or injured or otherwise immunocompromised people CAN get progressive, systemic fungal infections, and they are very hard to treat.

    1. Yes, this is the perfect preparation for a binge-watch of The Last of Us!

      I wish that John Hannah, playing the 1960s epidemiologist who said there would be no vaccine or cure, would have explained why– it’s because that almost anything that kills a fungus will kill an animal. “It’s the eukaryotes, Jake!”


  2. Thank you for this fantastic subject matter, with which I was heretofore unfamiliar. By chance, would Tony be making stereoscopic images? It’s very easy, takes not much or no special equipment, and would much enrich these views (textures, 3D structure).

    If Tony is not already making stereoscopic images, I would be happy to help/consult, so he might try it.

    1. Unfortunately I’m extremely busy at the moment with moving between states and starting a new job. My photography hobby is taking a backseat, these are all older photos. Perhaps when I can devote more time I’ll look into some different techniques. Thanks.

      1. Tony: when you have time, download and install an app for android / iOS called “3Dsteroid” / “i3Dsteroid”. You very likely use a DSLR with macro lens for your present work (likely using a rail). Before you consider solutions for stereoscopic shooting with a DSLR, first give 3Dsteroid a try on your smartphone. It’s very easy to use, giving a great introduction to the medium. Through practice, it teaches you by the “seat of the pants” about the various factors/variables involved, in particular the *stereobase* for a given subject. (in the case of a small subject like a spider, the best stereobase might be quite small… a mm or two). Stereo photography is a very powerful and satisfying tool for capturing scientific or natural subject matter, especially minerals. For fungi, and other flora/fauna it can add value, capturing structural complexity, semi-transparency, textures and iridescence that are otherwise lost in 2D photography. Best wishes and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions!

  3. Yikes, you even have a Cordycipitaceae, which is the fungus that creates the apocalypse in LoU. These are creepy, but fascinating. I assume some of these fungi attacked the insects after they were dead, or are all these arthropod-deaths due to fungi? Thanks for the submission!

    BTW, I’m rewatching the series, and there is a LOT, I missed the first time around. For one, there are a number of references to “Jack and Frank” before we meet them in episode 3. I didn’t catch it the first time through since I didn’t have a frame of reference.

    1. The cycle goes that the fungi spreads internally and invisibly through the arthropod. The infected animal then goes somewhere and dies of the infection, often in a place that is good for spore distribution. Shortly after the fruiting bodies emerge from between the hard plates of the exoskeleton which is when it’s visible to us and these are the subjects of the photo. Sometimes there is overgrowth by secondary fungi.

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