Our planet's rain forests - rich matrices of life which exist primarily in tropical regions - provide us with unique opportunity to observe life in all of its manifold and perplexing beauty. Most rain forests date back some two to three hundred million years. This extreme age has allowed many unusual and complex relationships to develop among the inhabitants of these tropical ecosystems.
In the rain forest of the Cameroon in West Central Africa lives a floor dwelling ant known as Megaloponera foetens, or more commonly, the stink ant. This large ant - one of the very few to produce a cry audible to the human ear - lives by foraging for food among the fallen leaves and undergrowth of the extraordinarily rich rain forest floor.
On occasion one of these ants, while looking for food is infected by inhaling a microscopic spore from a fungus of the genus Tomentella. After being inhaled, the spore seats in the ant's tiny brain and begins to grow, causing changes in the ant's patterns of behavior. The Ant appears troubled and confused; for the first time in its life the ant leaves the forest floor and begins to climb.
Driven on by the growth of the fungus, the ant embarks on a long and exhaustive climb. Completely spent and having reached a prescribed height, the ant impales the plant with its mandibles. Thus affixed, the ant waits to die. Ants that have met their ends in this fashion are quite common in some sections of the forest.
The fungus continues to consume first the nerve cells and finally all the soft tissue that remains of the ant. After approximately two weeks a spike appears from what had been the head of the ant. This spike is about an inch and a half in length and has a bright orange tip heavy with spores which rain down onto the rain forest floor for other unsuspecting ants to inhale.