Entomophthora muscae is a widespread pathogenic fungus that infects common house flies.
By infecting the female fly with its spores, the fungusspreads until its host is slowly eaten alive from the inside out. After about six days, the fungus takes over the behavior of the female fly and causes her to climb to the highest point, be it vegetation or a wall, where she dies. When the fungus kills the female zombie, she begins to release chemical signals known as sesquiterpenes.
"Chemical signals act like pheromones,which bewitch male flies and cause them an incredible desire to mate with the lifeless corpses of females,” explains Henrik H. de Fine Licht, assistant professor of ecology and plant science at the University of Copenhagen and one of the authors of the study.
When male flies mate with dead females,fungal spores fall on males, who then suffer the same terrible fate. Thus, Entomophthora muscae spreads its spores to new victims and ensures its survival.
At the same time, the corpses of flies become moreattractive over time. For example, 73 percent of the male flies in the study mated with the carcasses of female flies that died from a fungal infection between 25 and 30 hours ago. Only 15 percent of males mated with the corpses of females that were dead for 3-8 hours.