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A common fungus causes a spine-chilling phenomenon among common houseflies.

Entomophthora muscae is a widespread fungus that works by infecting female flies with its spores and slowly consuming the unsuspecting victim alive from the inside.

After about six days the fungus has enough of a hold on the female to take over her behaviour, driving her to the highest point on whatever surface she is on before killing her.

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When the zombie female is dead, the fungus releases hypnotising chemical signals known as sesquiterpenes to lure in unfortunate male flies.

As the male fly mates with the decomposing female, the fungal spores are showered onto him, causing him to endure the same awful fate as his deceased new partner.

A study at the University of Copenhagen and the Swedish University of Agriculture Sciences has explored the chilling phenomenon.

Associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and one of the authors of the study, Henrik H. De Fine Licht, said: "Our observations suggest that this is a very deliberate strategy for the fungus. It is a true master of manipulation – and this is incredibly fascinating."

The study even found that as the hours pass and the female carcasses become more decayed, the male flies are driven even more wild by the strange pheromone-like chemical.

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Almost three-quarters of the male flies chose to mate with fly cadavers that had died from the infection between 25-30 hours earlier, while only 15% of the males mated with female corpses that had been dead for three to eight hours.

"This is because the number of fungal spores increases with time, which enhances the seductive fragrances," De Fine Licht explained.

And while the study might sound revolting, it provides exciting new knowledge that could help scientists develop fly repellants in the future.

"Flies are quite unhygienic and can sicken humans and animals," De Fine Licht said. "So, there is an incentive to limit housefly populations, in areas where food is being produced for example.

"This is where the Entomophthora muscae fungus may prove useful. It might be possible for us to use these same fungal fragrances as a biological pest control that attracts healthy males to a fly trap instead of a corpse."

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