This Fungus Turns Ants Into Zombies

You may think that zombies may only be real in Hollywood movies, but zombies do exist. You may not see them walking around the city streets, but if you live near the Thailand tropical forest, you may see them walking in the forest floor. If you’re a human, you have nothing to worry about, but if you’re a tropical carpenter ant, that ant walking next to you may not be the same friend you were eating a leaf next to the day before.

For the most part, tropical carpenter ants spend most of their time high in the forest canopy away from the ground. Every once in a while they do venture down to the jungle floor in search of seeds, or food. When they travel to the floor, they follow a well-defined trail. It’s during this time that ants could get infected by Ophicordyceps Unilateralis – fancy name for a zombie making fungus.

The fungal spores that land on their outer body infiltrate the body of the carpenter ant, and then it begins to feed on the ant. Eventually the ant loses its ability control its body and the fungus begins the full body invasion. The fungus forces the ant to the forest floor by causing the ant to shake uncontrollably and thus losing its grip on the leaves.

Once the ant lands on the forest ground, the fungus looks for an environment where the fungus can grow – usually leaves of saplings that are about 10 inches above the soil surface. Once the fungus finds this leaf it waits for the sun to shine at its highest intensity of the day, it is then that the fungus forces the ant into “the death grip.” The ant sinks it’s mandibles into the leaf’s main vein on the underside of the leaf. The ant eventually dies and the fungus begins to grow out of the ant’s head releasing an odor unique to an ant colony.

When the fungus matures, it waits until other ants are near the area and then releases the spores infecting other ants and starting the process all over again. As long as this fungus never mutates to infect humans, we should be in the clear because this is some scary s**t. Via:Earth Sky