Zombie Ants!

The zombies have come, but it’s not exactly the apocalypse. Carpenter ants being taken over by fungi sounds like the beginning of a Science-Fiction film, but this time it’s just Science. From Discovery Magazine:

A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that infects a plain old carpenter ant and takes over its brain, leading the ant to bite into the vein that runs down the center of a leaf on the underside. The ant dies shortly thereafter, but the fungus gains the nutrients it needs to grow this crazy stalk out of the ant’s body and release spores to create the next generation of ant-controlling fungi.

This cryptic cycle has been going on for at least 48 million years.

In a study forthcoming in Biology Letters, Harvard’s David Hughes argues that a fossilized leaf found in a fossil-rich part of Germany’s Rhine Rift Valley bears the scars of the ant’s trademark death bite. The ant bites down hard so the fungus will have a stable position when it grows a stalk out of the ant’s head. But even so, Hughes says, he doubted the mark would turn up in the fossil record—that is, until serendipity reared its random head:

“I thought it was a very, very long shot to find such a fossil, but indeed, as luck would have it, two paleobotanists, Conrad Labandeira at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and Torsten Wappler at the Steinmann Institute in Bonn, were sitting around wondering how that particular damage type might be explained” [MSNBC].

Continues at Discovery Magazine

9 Comments on "Zombie Ants!"

  1. E.B. Wolf | Aug 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm |

    Anybody care to lay odds on how long it takes for Your Mom to claim a connection between this parasitic fungus and Marxism?

    • Hey, don't bring My Mom into this.

      Actually, I knew of a similar situation which Daniel Dennett spoke about in a TED speech (if I remember correctly). Since discovering that, I've many times found myself thinking twice about any little thing I'm doing, about whether I'm just being influenced by some bug or not. By the look of things, there's a bug spreading around the world which leads people to comment stuff on the web. Shit's dangerous.

    • Well…to be fair…I was going to make a comment comparing it to evangelicalism…so if he does…I kinda gotta let it pass…this time.

    • I can make a connection. This article is a perfect metaphor for the spread of Socialism's omnicidal nihilistic fantasy that poor people should have food and shelter and health care.

  2. A Bad Joke | Aug 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm |


  3. Simiantongue | Aug 20, 2010 at 2:14 am |

    I wonder if this was partly the inspiration for the X-Files episode Firewalker where a volcanic research team was infected with silicone based fungus spore parasite thing that compelled the infected to seek out others so it could spread. I want to believe it was. Geddit? “I want to believe”… I crack me up.

  4. This is a cool story. I need Facebook friends.

  5. This is a cool story. I need Facebook friends.

Comments are closed.