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Parasitic Fungus Turns Ants Into Zombies

Parasitic Fungus Turns Ants Into Zombies

Scientists have discovered a type of fungus that may have been invading the bodies of carpenter ants and controlling their behavior for over 48 millions years.

A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has been shown to intentionally infect the ants because they inhabit the same plants and trees the fungus hopes to utilize.

Once it has invaded the ant’s body, the fungus instructs the insect to bite the underside of a leaf at the veins. As soon as the ant hits an optimal location, the fungus grows rapidly right through its body, killing its unsuspecting host as it prepares to release a new spore.

While they are under the fungi’s control, the ants leave distinct marks, also known as “death bites,” on the leaves as they bite the veins in search of a prime spot for fungal growth (EcoTone).

David Hughes of Harvard University has discovered these same bite marks on a 48 million year old leaf, leading him to believe the fungus has engaged in this zombifying practice since before humans appeared on the Earth.

Hughes told Nature News that he is confident that the fugus was controlling the ants when they made these marke because “it is not normal ant behavior to bite into the leaf vein because it has no real nutritional value to the ant and can in fact be toxic in some plant species.”

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Image Credit: David Hughes, from Discover‘s 80beats

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141 comments

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4:02PM PST on Feb 20, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

8:25AM PDT on Apr 15, 2012

That is amazing ! The natural world is real life horror movies! Ha! That's ridiculous, my question would actually be more specific to what is happening biochemically in the ant that it can be controlled. By the fungi, do they block receptors for the top leaf, make new receptors for veins? I would love to know why this happens on a chemical level

5:49PM PST on Jan 13, 2012

interesting

11:41AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

most interesting! thank you!

10:17PM PDT on Sep 23, 2011

Interesting. Thanks for the post.

9:14PM PDT on Sep 23, 2011

another interesting story

1:53PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Interesting, how this and the "Zombie Virus Drives Caterpillars To An Explosive Death" both target only one specific insect, and have been doing it for a long time.

9:19AM PDT on Aug 29, 2010

interesting

11:00AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

Very facinating infor. I wonder if this fungus could be used to rid a home of carpenter ants?

12:07PM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

i have seen a documentary on this, really interesting

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