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August 16, 2009

Zombie Ants

A new scientific study has proven the existence of mind-control and zombies!

Ok, not exactly. However, a new study suggests that a fungus does take over the bodies of ants. This weird parasite, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, infects carpenter ants. The ant doesn't immediately die, though. Instead, the fungus controls it, causing it to travel to the ideal location for the fungus to grow. The ant crawls up understory plants, and clamps onto the underside of a low leaf. The ant then dies here, and the fungus continues to feed on the body, preserving only the exoskeleton and the mouthparts. After a few days, it erupts from the corpse, revealing a stroma. Spores are released from this, floating down to infect other ants.

Though the scientists aren't sure how, the fungus have very precise control over these "zombie" ants. The team found that the infected ants were, almost exclusively, clamped to the undersides of leaves 25 cm from the ground, on the northwest side of the plant. The conditions in that place are optimal for the fungal growth.

The precision with which the fungus takes over the carpenter ants is a bit disturbing. Scientists are still investigating, to try and understand how exactly it turns unsuspecting ants into zombies. It's a very specialized skill, and a fascinating one.

Credit: Science Daily- Parasite Causes Zombie Ants to Die in an Ideal Spot