Science image award goes to zombie fungus-infected fly

The second BioMed Central Ecology and Evolution Image Competition has just announced its winners, and they are both incredible and terrifying.

The winning image shows the fruiting bodies of a parasitic fungus erupting from the body of a fly in the Tambopata National Reserve, Peru and was taken by Roberto García-Roa from the University of Valencia, Spain.

“The image depicts a conquest that has been shaped by thousands of years of evolution. The spores of the so-called ‘zombie’ fungus have infiltrated the exoskeleton and mind of the fly and compelled it to migrate to a location more favourable for the fungus’s growth,” says García-Roa.

“The fruiting bodies have then erupted from the fly’s body and will be jettisoned in order to infect more victims.”

You can see that winning image above.

Read more: Ebola’s molecular landscape wins award

In addition to the winning image, the judges selected winners and runner ups in four categories: Relationships in Nature, Biodiversity Under Threat, Life Close Up, and Research in Action, as well as three highly commended entries.

A white bird with wings spread holding a tiny red berry in it's mouth. It is holding onto a branch with more berries. The background is blurred but it's snowing.
A waxwing flying away with a rowan berry. Credit: Alwin Hardenbol.

Alwin Hardenbol from the University of Eastern Finland took the winning image for the Relationships in Nature category. The photograph depicts a Bohemian Waxwing feasting on fermented rowan berries, showing the strong relationship between the species.

Rowan berries influence the migration of waxwings which can eat several hundred berries a day and have evolved larger livers to process ethanol produced by fermenting berries.

A brown bat on a black background hanging upside down with it's back to the camera. It's head is tilted back so you can see it's face. It's holding in it's wings a white and black spotted frog which it's eating. It somehow looks cute.
A bat locates its dinner by tuning into a frog’s mating call. Credit: Alexander T. Baugh

The runners up are also something to behold. In the category of Relationships in Nature, Alexander T. Baugh, a behavioural biologist at Swarthmore College, snapped a photo of a bat, mid-meal, devouring a frog.

The Biodiversity Under Threat runner up was taken by Lindsey Swierk, an Assistant Research Professor at Binghamton University. It depicts a wood frog with its eggs. Sadly, a ‘false spring’ meant these eggs were not to be taddies.

“Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) are early spring breeders in temperate North America and congregate in vernal pools soon after the ice melts, to mate and produce egg masses. Lately, wood frogs are breeding earlier in the year as climate change unseasonably warms early spring in the Northeastern USA,” says Swierk.

“Unfortunately, winter storms can still catch frogs unexpectedly and trap them under the ice. Here, a male wood frog clings to an egg mass produced before a freeze; both the egg mass and the frog were recently trapped under ice. The frog survived, but many of the eggs did not.”

A brown frog at the top of the water with hundreds of eggs in the foreground in front of it. The photo is underwater so you can see the reflection of the frog and the eggs in the water's surface above.
A male wood frog clings to an egg mass. Credit: Lindsey Swierk

You can see all the winning images here.

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