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Photo#7300
Goldenrod Soldier Beetle--killed by fungus - Chauliognathus pensylvanicus

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle--killed by fungus - Chauliognathus pensylvanicus
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, Orange County, North Carolina, USA
September 12, 2003
We found several such killed leatherwings that day. All were in the same position, jaws locked onto foliage, near the top of a plant, and abdomen projecting out. The biology graduate students I was with said they had read about similar phenomena in the tropics: the parasitic fungus causes an insect to climb up and then assume a position allowing dispersal of the fungus. Freaky! (I'll try to get details from these folks.)

Update 9/27/2010! See comments on likely identity of the pathogen.

just the kind of observation
that belongs on Mushroom Observer! Really, all of these entomopathogenic finds would be such a valuable addition to the site, as would the BugGuide community's contributions to our many unidentified spp.

fungus
Here's a quote from Mark J Plotkin in his book "Medicine Quest." "Though merely a cousin of the lowly toadstool, the Cordyceps fungus lives a life that could hardly be imagined by even the most creative science-fiction writer. Cordyceps lies quiescent on the forest floor, waiting for its unsuspecting insect prey to pass. When a bug wanders by, the fungus attaches itself to the insect exoskeleton. It then secretes a chemical that burns a hole in the insect's body armor. Next, Cordyceps inserts itself into the insect body and proceeds to devour all of the host's nonvital organs, all the while preventing the insect from dying of infection by secreting an antibiotic and a fungicide (as well as an insecticide to deter other insect predators). Once the nonvital organs are consumed, the fungus eats part of the insect brain, causing the insect to ascend to the top of a tall tree in the forest. At this point, Cordyceps devours the rest of the bug's brain, thereby killing the insect and causing the body to split open. At that point, the fungus can release its spores a hundred feet above the forest floor." !!!

 
Fungus
Fascinating! This is one of the things that I love about this site.

Gross but interesting
I wonder if the fungus attacks primarily leatherwings or other species as well. I know some parasites can be very host-specific.

 
Six years later...
I should have done more searching on this initially--this has been reported in the literature--looks to be a specific parasite/predator of these beetles--reported from South Carolina:
G. R. Carner, Entomophthora lampyridarum, a fungal pathogen of the soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus, Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, Volume 36, Issue 3, November 1980, Pages 394-398, ISSN 0022-2011, DOI: 10.1016/0022-2011(80)90044-0.

Update: another paper, giving the name of the pathogen as Eryniopsis lampyridarum, which sounds like the same fungus shuffled to a different genus:
A. G. Wheeler, Jr. "Violent Deaths" of Soldier Beetles (Coleoptera: Cantharidae) Revisited: New Records of the Fungal Pathogen Eryniopsis lampyridarum (Zygomycetes: Entomophthoraceae). The Coleopterists Bulletin Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 233-236. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/4008483)

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