Deadly fungus turns ants into ZOMBIES.

[deleted account] ( 11 moms have responded )

Researchers combing the rainforests of Brazil have uncovered four new species of fungi that turns ants into zombies.

Although it is not the first time the fungi has been seen affecting ants, the discovery of four distinct species in close proximity highlights the level of biodiversity in the Amazon.

Their study appears online in the journal PLoS One.

The research, led by Assistant Professor David Hughes of the University of Pennsylvannia, identified and described the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps unliateralis living on four species of carpenter ant (Camponotini sp.) in the Zona da Mata region of Brazil.

Ants become infected when they come into contact with spores released by the fungus. Within a week the ant enters a "zombie-like" state.

"This so-called zombie or brain-manipulating fungus alters the behaviors of the ant host, causing it to die in an exposed position, typically clinging onto and biting the adaxial surface of shrub leaves," the study authors write.

The fungus then grows out of the head of the ant, releasing spores into the air, which rain down onto unsuspecting ants and the forest floor.

In 2009, Hughes led a team of researchers studying "zombie-ants" in Indonesia. They found the infected ants consistently attached to leaves 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) above the ground in an environment with 95 percent humidity -- perfect conditions for the fungus to grow.

In the current study, Hughes and colleagues found each species of fungus was different in size and shape, and adapted to live only in one particular species.

Two of the species of fungus have also adapted to grow secondary spores, doubling their chances of finding a new host.

Steve Shattuck, an entomologist with CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences says there are records of the fungus existing in Australia, but its range is limited to tropical regions of Australia.

"It's hard to find. Exactly how common it is, who knows? But obviously if it was too common it would kill all the ants and then go away," says Shattuck.

He says, while there are many examples of ants living in symbiotic relationships with other organisms such as bacteria and other types of fungi, none are as invasive as Ophiocordyceps.

And despite the fungus' ability at destroying a whole colony of ants, Shattuck says its potential for use in pest control is very limited.

"What the paper found was that the fungi were species specific," he says. "So unless one of ants was your pest it doesn't do you any good."

It also means the possibility that the fungi will turn our 2000-odd species of Australian ant into a zombie army is highly remote.

"It would be very unlikely," says Shattuck. "If the fungi did get here it wouldn't have anything to live on and would just die out in all likelihood."

According to Hughes' website, his team plan to study the zombie-inducing fungus in Colombia, Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Australia.


http://news.discovery.com/animals/zombie...

11 Comments

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Jenni - posted on 03/11/2011

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Bah!! shhhhhh... Don't say that! That'd be my worst nightmare come true! Talk about Resident Evil... :P

*Starts designing plans for a bunker*

[deleted account]

bio-weapons, genetically modified plants and animals among other things could create zombie humans. It doesn't have to be from the fungus.
Some scientist could take the fungus though and try to develop a bio-weapon to use on humans out of it.

Jenni - posted on 03/11/2011

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Apparently, this fungus has been practicing "brain control" for 48 million years. So it hasn't evolved into anything else in that time.

Don't think we'll be experiencing Zombie Humans in our time. ;)

[deleted account]

I have nightmares about them sometimes, i like zombie movies but afterward i think of all the what-ifs. Freaks me out.

Krista - posted on 03/11/2011

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It's really kind of freaky when you think about it. I mean, we're talking about simple organisms here. And for them to develop such a sophisticated method of parasitic reproduction? Creepy as hell.

Jenni - posted on 03/11/2011

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Julianne, No way? Me too! Only horror movies that actually scare me. But I love them! I have reacurring nightmares about zombies. Sorry off topic a little ;)

Jenni - posted on 03/11/2011

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Yes!!! I seen this on Animal Planet's Most Extreme.
Very weird!
There are also other parasites that practice "brain control":
"The juvenile gordian worm parasitizes land-living arthropods such as grasshopers, locusts and beetles, but the adult is a free-living aquatic species which can only reproduce in water. Inside the host, the microscopic larvae feed on surrounding tissue, and develop into long worms which can reach up to 4 times the length of the host, and which remain within the body cavity of the host as a long, coiled mass. After metamorphosing, the adult worm induces its host to leave its terrestrial habitat, and to commit suicide by jumping into water and drowning itself, so that the worm can emerge."

Reminds me of the time when I was a kid and my Dad convinced me to put a preying mantis in my jar of grasshoppers. The mantis sucked all the insides out of one of the grasshoppers, except it's brain. It turned completely clear but was still hopping around for a few hours after. I know it's not the same thing... but creepy all the same.

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