Zombie Ants Have Been Around A Long Time


Sounds a bit like yet another pest control horror movie, but yes – zombie ants do exist. Considering the number of pests and parasites that are specialized for feasting on humans, it should come as no surprise that even pests can be the target of specialized parasites.

As far back as 48 million years ago, the carpenter ants were “zombified” by the spores of a parasitic fungus which the ants fed on as reported in the Guardian:

Earliest evidence of fungus that takes over ants’ behaviour for its own ends found by scientists.

Take a look at this fascinating clip on the same subject taken from the Planet Earth series as narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

So there is the parasitic fungus and we have also mentioned the parasitic wasp here on deBugged. Got any others to add to what could potentially be a very long list?

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  1. Posted August 18, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    The most amazing thing I read about the fungus in The Guardian article was that it affects the ants’ behaviour in such a specific way!

    It makes them latch onto the underside of a leaf’s main vein in a ‘death-grip’ using their mandibles, usually at a specific height. This is so that the spores grow downwards and can drop onto the jungle floor to begin the cycle again.

    Insects don’t really have minds, just a simple nervous system that responds to stimuli in an instinctive way. So the fungus must secrete lots of very specific chemicals to induce such a regimented and predictable effect on the ants. It’s amazing what evolution can come up with, given enough time!

  2. Posted August 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s quite shocking, eh? I remember the first time I watched that episode of Planet Earth – I had to email everyone I knew to let them know. It’s wild stuff.

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