Academic journal article Science Scope

Parasite Causes Zombie Ants to Die in an Ideal Spot

Academic journal article Science Scope

Parasite Causes Zombie Ants to Die in an Ideal Spot

Article excerpt

When a carpenter ant is infected by a fungus known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the victim remains alive for a short time. The fungus, however, is firmly in the driver's seat. It compels the ant to climb from its nest high in the forest canopy down into small plants and saplings in the understory vegetation. The ant then climbs out onto the underside of a low-hanging leaf where it clamps down with its mandibles just before it dies. There it remains, stuck fast for weeks. After the ant dies, the fungus continues to grow inside the body. After a few days, a stroma--the fungus's fruiting body--sprouts from the back of the ant's head. After a week or two, the stroma starts raining down spores to the forest floor below. Each spore has the potential to infect another unfortunate passerby.

Scientists have known for over 100 years about this parasite's ghastly ability to turn unsuspecting ants into zombies. But David P. Hughes of Harvard University and his colleagues chronicle the amazingly precise control the fungus has over its victim. At a field site in a Thai forest, Hughes's team found that the infected carpenter ants are almost invariably found clamped onto the undersides of leaves that are 25 centimeters (about 10 inches) from the ground below. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.