Zombie ants

Zombie ant with grown up fungus

A new study revealed that ants may also get infected by fungus and one example which has been studied on the ants of the Thai forests. Here in these forests, Carpenter Ants (species Camponotus leonardi) are infected by the fungi (Ophiocordyceps fungi) making them zombie like and causing them to die at places where fungus has optimal conditions to grow.

David P. Hughes and his colleagues work on the effect of the fungus O. unilateralis s.l. on Camponotus leonardi and found a  dramatic change of behaviour in Thai rainforest. The ants develop a pattern of meaningless behaviour and convulsions start developing in the ants making it to forget the way to home.

 Fungi after taking control of the ant make it to eat or bite the main vein on the underside of the leaf. This process takes place in the solar noon. The bite of the leaf takes place due to the muscles controlled by the multiplying fungus forcing the ant to open and close the mandibles and at last causing “lock jaw”. Lock jaw  means the ant will remain attached to the leaf even after death. After some days a fungus grows through the head and releases more spores for catching more ants.

Ants die about 25 cm above the soil surface and this place is optimum for the growth of fungi.

David P. Hughes and his colleagues found four new species of Zombie ants in the Brazilian Rainforest.

According to one research, 48 million old fossilized leaf shows signs of zombie ants.

References:

David P Hughes, Sandra Andersen, Nigel L Hywel-Jones, Winanda Himaman, Johan Billen and Jacobus J Boomsma. Behavioral mechanisms and morphological symptoms of zombie ants dying from fungal infection. BMC Ecology, 2011, 11:13

1.David P. Hughes, Torsten Wappler, and Conrad C. Labandeira. Ancient death-grip leaf scars reveal anti-fungal parasitism. Biology Letters, August 18, 2010

Harry C. Evans, Simon L. Elliot, David P. Hughes. Hidden Diversity Behind the Zombie-Ant Fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis: Four New Species Described from Carpenter Ants in Minas Gerais, Brazil. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (3)

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