Zombie Ants: Brain Controlling Fungi

A stillness looms over the jungle. There is something out there. I can feel its presence, its power. It waits. It waits for us. I once again cast my eyes towards the wilderness. Little tingles begin to creep in the pit of my stomach, I forget to breathe.

One step, two step, three step. I continue to march. The usual heap of foliage from which we gather our supply lies close. One step, two step. Halt. I can see heads out of formation. They’ve lost the scent. We pause but the one behind me pushes past me and continues to march. What’s he up too? There is shuffling and murmurs as he falls out of formation. He staggers off the main road and begins to thrash his head violently as he lifts his arms up, wafting away frantically at the bare air above him, his shrieks causes many to leave formation and circle around his now convulsing body; another wail in the distance causes heads to turn and then another shrill scream emerges – this time from the circle. Within seconds shuttering bodies are writhing uncontrollably besides me, panic sends me sprinting away from the havoc and into the heart of the jungle. Faster and FASTER I run. Where am I to go?

I pick up a familiar scent and surge of hope overpowers me, the next colony is near. They can help. Climbing and crying for salvation I tumble down into a hole, delirious and weakened I try to stand but my legs have sunk into a pile moss. What is this? Where am I? I take a second to process my surroundings, to my horror thousands corpses lay still; mangled, corroding, frightening. Bodies pierced by thorns. Thin spiky strands protrude – no, grow – from the innards and orifices of the dead like hatching vipers. I try to escape

the gruesome crypt in which I am captive but my legs to my dismay are wedged not within moss but inside a putrid cadaver. As I struggle to be free, a little ball bursts from the tip of a nearby strand that sends a puff of smoke in my direction. I feel dizzy. I know I will die. I know I will be…another dead ant.

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Photo Credit: Flickr

It is hard to imagine that such a tale can be true, however, in the miniature world of ants and other arthropods, such a horror does exist. Cordyceps is a parasitic fungi that invades the central nervous system of insects making them lose control over their motor functions making them “zombies”. Eventually, the creatures are brought to a slow starvation allowing the fungus to continue to sprout from within the body of its host, sometimes killing entire colonies at a time. The fungi spreads by releasing spores – or puffs of itself– into the air. This strange phenomena has captured the sci-fi world and has even appeared on the popular television series “The X-Files”.

 

 

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