Researchers Discover Several New Fungal Species That Turn Ants Into Literal Zombies
During the past decade or so, a resurgence in zombie related entertainment has undoubtedly occurred. Popular shows and movies, like the Walking Dead and Sean of the Dead, have shown viewers what living in a post-apocalyptic zombie-world would be like. Although there does indeed exist a US government document that describes how a real-life zombie epidemic should be handled, it is fair to say that most people consider zombies to be a matter of pure fiction. It is difficult to imagine a world where zombies pose a threat to humans. However, for carpenter ants, zombieism is a reality. This blog has described the phenomenon of zombified ants in the past, but now researchers have identified several new fungal species that can also transform healthy ants into zombies. Carpenter ants remain alive in a zombified state for a period of time after contracting a fungal infection, but only to serve their new fungal overlords. In addition to discovering many new zombie-fungal species, researchers are finally understanding how certain fungal-spores can control an ant’s behavior.
Scientists have long been aware of the “zombie-ant” phenomenon, but experts have remained unsure as to the physiological processes behind an ant’s transition into a zombie. Do zombie fungal spores control an ant’s behavior by affecting the ant’s tiny brain? Or do the spores dictate an infected ant’s movements by compromising the ant’s muscles? Are zombified ant’s aware that they are not behaving in accordance with their own will? Luckily, a recent study involving one of the several new zombie-fungal species has shed more light on these mysteries.
Back in 2014, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania located a new species of zombie fungus in the United States. The fungal species is similar to the existing species known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. The researchers quickly determined the physiological effects that this new fungal species has on carpenter ants. The new species was found to secrete “mind controlling compounds”. In contrast to most expert theories on this matter, these compounds do not seem to affect the brains of their ant hosts; instead the fungal compounds were found to alter an ant host’s muscle movements. There is still much research to be done on this topic, but at the moment it looks like zombified carpenter ants still possess a working brain in spite of losing complete control over their own movements and actions.
Do you believe that zombified ants can perceive their lack of control over their own bodies?