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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?
You Would Not Believe The Number Of Ants That Were Pulled Out Of A Young Girl’s Eye
Only the most secure people can publicly admit to being terrified of insects, spiders and other creepy-crawlies. We all know how ugly some arthropods look, and it seems impossible for any person to not regard at least some types of arthropods as anything but disturbing to look at. If a group of people were to spot a creepy looking insect crawling a mere foot or so away from them, more than half of the group members would almost certainly pretend to be unfazed by the insect’s otherworldly appearance.
When it comes to human attitudes toward insects, it could be said that there exists two types of people in the world. The first group includes people who cannot even manage to think about insects without cringing. This particularly timid group of people cannot go to the bathroom without falling victim to intrusive and unsettling thoughts about terrifying what-if scenarios that involve surprise spider bites. The second type of person is always ready to kill or dispose of scary insects in order to appear brave in front of those who were too frightened of doing the same. Sometimes individuals who claim to be well composed members of the second group cannot help but to recoil when approached by a harmless house-spider. In these situations the so called “fearless” ones are revealed to be normal people with understandable fears. Then again, some people can truly remain stoic and controlled when disposing of a six or eight legged home intruder; some people just don’t seem bothered by the sight or touch of bugs. For example, one particular girl from India has recently fallen victim to a rather unusual and excessively cringeworthy insect-related medical anomaly. The young Indian girl has been removing individual ants from her eyeball everyday now for the past several days. Although this situation would be a bit more than unpleasant for anybody, the girl seems to be accepting the situation with a commendable lack of fear.
A couple of weeks ago an eleven year old girl named Ashwini from India presented a strange and virtually unknown medical condition to a team of perplexed and probably horrified doctors. The girl had multiple ants dwelling within her eyeball. Not long ago Ashwini started to complain about eye-pains. It was soon discovered that Ashwini had an ant lodged in her eye. The ant was removed, but then another ant appeared beneath her eyelid. After removing the first two ants, Ashwini removed a third, then a fourth and so on. Today, ten days later, Ashwini is still removing ants from her eye. According to Ashwini, she pulls out around five or six ants a day from her eyeball. So far Ashwini has removed sixty individual ants from her eyeball in only ten days time. Ashwini’s doctor’s believe that the ants traveled to Ashwini’s eye socket by entering through her ear while she slept. Judging by the girl’s occasional laughter over the strange situation, she seems to be taking this situation better than most of us would. It goes without saying that whether you are afraid of insects or not, you certainly would not be laughing about having an ant infestation within your eyeball.
After learning of this bizarre insect-related medical anomaly, do you think that the frequency at which insects crawl into human orifices during sleeping hours is, in fact, understated as opposed to overstated?
Several years back a woman by the name of Janet Wallace Roedl Shiansky was gardening in her backyard when she realized that she was being victimized by an army of ants. The woman, who was sixty eight years old, went into anaphylactic shock, and died shortly afterwards. These ants are known among the public as fire ants, and they are common in the United States.
According to entomologist, Mike Ruapp, most of the time fire-ant bites won’t cause any injuries worse than red welts and a pustule that typically lasts no more than three days. However, Raupp also said that in about five percent of fire ant attacks on humans, the humans end up dying. In most of the cases that do involve a human-death caused by a fire-ant attack, the deaths occurred as a result of a violent allergic reaction, and not so much the fire-ant bites. Raupp has personally seen cases where people’s throats swelled up as a result of an allergic reaction. Naturally, those people soon died, as they could not access oxygen.
The woman that died after sustaining an attack from fire ants had the bugs running into her clothing, mostly her shoe. After she had clearly been bitten several times her husband washed her bite-wounds with ammonia. Sadly her husband discovered her motionless body not too long after the ant-attack. The fire-ant victim’s official cause of death was suffocation as her airways tightened as an allergic response to fire-ant bites.
Fire ants are mainly found throughout the Southeast United States and they often feed on small animals, like kittens. You might find fire ants in other parts of the country, like California, but they do not have any big colonies up north. If you happen to sustain a fire-ant bite/s, then call the doctor if you have any known allergies.
Have you ever been bitten by a group of ants of any kind?
It seems as though entomologists cannot stop learning new and fascinating things about ants. Despite their tiny bodies and what seems like a lack of mental sophistication, ants are capable of many behaviors that some would consider advanced. They have been know to clean themselves, so they care about personal hygiene, and they work in groups to transport large chunks of food. Now scientists know that ants identify members of their group by smell.
Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have discovered that ants can even communicate through hydrocarbon chemicals that exist on their cuticles, or their outer shells. These cuticles emit odors that ants can smell and in turn use to identify different members of their colonies. The ants were observed to be precise in their smell-based judgments of other ants as they would communicate to form groups in order to tackle a challenge. Ants have evolved advanced and large families of olfactory (smell) genes that are more sophisticated than the vast majority of other insects.
Have you ever watched a colony of ants for a period of time in order to observe how many different tasks ants are capable of accomplishing through group efforts?
It is common knowledge that ants live in colonies, and at the head of these ant colonies are the queen ants, while all the other ants are workers. You would think that every once in a while the army of worker ants would get fed up with taking orders from the queen. In which case an army of hundreds or thousands of ants would easily be able to take out a single queen, right? Actually, sometimes worker ants do unite in order to dethrone the queen. However, despite the difference in numbers, taking out the queen ant with an army of smaller but determined ants does not always result in a victory for the worker ants.
Queen ants will do whatever they can to hold on to their power over the colony, even if it means rearing fewer ants to prevent a possible coup. An ant colony usually has more than one queen, and in these cases a few generations will pass before the worker ants become so numerous that they can kill off a queen or multiple queens without worrying about their own survival. However, the ants will almost always leave at least one queen standing to rule the colony. I guess the worker ants don’t like having more several different bosses.
Could the mass murder of numerous queen ants within a colony ultimately result in a more efficient colony since there are no longer multiple queens simultaneously giving orders to the worker ants?
When an exterminator from Texas, Tom Rasberry, laid his eyes on an insect species that he had never encountered, he could not help but to become mesmerized by the highly erratic movements that the ants made as a group when travelling. Rasberry had never seen ants move in this particular fashion. Raspberry named the newly discovered ant species the “Rasberry crazy ant.” The name is not too original, but at least it is refreshingly basic and straightforward.
After ten years of studying the strange ants, entomologists were finally able to give the ant its proper taxonomic moniker Nylanderia fulva. The official Latin name translates to “tawny crazy”. The crazy ants are currently marching across Texas, but they are taking their sweet time. The ant march is slow. A crazy ant can only travel six hundred and fifty feet annually.
Unfortunately, the crazy ants are not just objects of fascination among bug experts for their unique traveling formations, the crazy ants are also deeply attracted to electronic equipment, and when these ants find a source of electrical energy, they just cannot seem to help tearing it apart. Cell Phones, wall sockets, and just about any type of electrical machinery is viewed by the crazy ants as an opportunity for destruction and feasting. I have heard of invasive insects causing crop damage, but having to protect my TiVo from insects is a scenario that I could never have imagined.
Are there any other types of arthropods that demonstrate a sensitivity and/or primal attraction to electrical equipment?
Scientists have recently discovered a colony of the infamous ant species Lepisiota canescens living in the forests of Ethiopia exhibiting behavior that suggests they will begin forming a supercolony and will very likely become a globally invasive species. In normal language that basically means they’re getting ready to literally take over the world. Lock your doors and make sure your screens on your doors and windows are sealed tight! We may have an invasion on our hands in the near future!
One reason scientists believe this species could invade other countries and actually stretch their colony across vast expanses of land and even oceans because, like other invasive species, these ants have a tendency to travel with humans. They can hitch a ride in a potted plant or in someone’s luggage and easily cross to numerous other countries, especially as tourism and global commerce continue to grow in that region of Ethiopia. The author D. Magdalena Sorger, who is currently doing her postdoctoral research at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, claims that it would take just one pregnant queen hitching a ride in someone’s luggage for the species to spread globally. That is, in fact, how fire ants actually spread to the United States.
It takes a very specific kind of ant species to form supercolonies, though. Not just any ant species has the characteristics that make them expand in this aggressive manner. Most ants simply form one single colony made up of one nest that is ruled by a single queen. However, around 20 different species of ants exist that have more lofty goals in mind such as global domination or building a giant empire. You might think of them as the Romans or Huns of the insect world. These ant species build multiple nests with many queens that make up one giant supercolony. These supercolonies can contain billions of individual ants that will actually swarm out across increasing expanses of land and get rid of their ant neighbors, taking over their land and expanding their empire. The biggest supercolony in the world currently spans across 3,700 miles of the Mediterranean.
The reason scientists believe the species L. canescens in Ethiopia is ripe for creating a supercolony is that they have the ability to expand their territory without any constraints. The species is very genetically diverse and native to the region. While they seem to prefer living in these forests in Ethiopia, they also have an uncanny ability to cross from their preferred forest habitat across very forbidding landscapes to nearby buildings, farms, and roads. The largest colony of the ants so far spans roughly 24 miles, and has the largest population for a supercolony living in its native habitat. The researchers also noted that the ant species is rapidly expanding its population and exhibits aggressive expansionist behavior that is typically seen in invasive ant species. These guys could be living your very own backyard in the very near future! Keep an eye out for any ants with an Ethiopian accent that are new to the neighborhood…but try not to be a bigoted bug-ist! The last thing we need in our current troubled society is more discriminatory ant-profiling!
What do you think causes an ant species to desire expansion like these supercolonies when other species are perfectly happy with their one small colony?
It is not often that you see an ant relaxing on a pile of dirt. Ants are some of the hardest workers known to man, but there are a few lazy ones here and there. Researchers from the University of Arizona observed ant colonies up close, and found that many ants are different when it comes to how much effort they will put into working within their colony.
A single ant will fit into one of three different groups. The groups include “active,” “inactive,” “undifferentiated.” ants that are labeled “inactive” will simply lay around while watching other ants do all of the work. “Undifferentiated” ants will crawl around pretending to do work, but are really not chipping in to the group’s activities.
The researchers noted that the lazy ants tend to be larger in size, and will keep to themselves. Many theorists believe that the inactive ants are really more like “reserve” ants. The reserve ants will stand on the sidelines, and will only become involved in the colonies affairs when tasks become challenging enough to call for their assistance. It is likely that the inactive ants serve a purpose since they are not punished for their inactivity.
Do social insects living within colonies deal out punishments to certain individual insects that do not pull their weight within the colony?
If some electronic device in your home malfunctioned or stopped working, like your computer or air conditioning, you would probably call a capable repairman. However, in some cases, you may end up needing to call an exterminator for your electronic troubles, buy why? Well, it is becoming more common for people today, especially in the gulf coast region of the USA, to experience electronic malfunctions or short circuits as a result of ant infestations.
During the year of 2002 large colonies of strange looking ants were found located in Houston, Texas. These ants quickly revealed their remarkable ability to reproduce in vast numbers as well as destroy your electronic appliances. This type of ant was finally revealed to belong to the species Nylanderia fulva, or “crazy ants.” This revelation occurred more than a decade after the ants were spotted in Houston. Crazy ants are native to northern South America, so how they wound up populating the USA is not exactly known.
It turns out that crazy ants are unique in that they do not build their own nests, rather they look for small cavities of space inside of people’s homes to live and reproduce. Add to that the crazy ants ability to reproduce much faster than any other type of ant species, as well as their minute size, and you will find that they enjoy crawling inside of electronic devices, such as cell phones, air conditioners, or radios. Once the ants gain access to an electronic device they crawl around and electrocute themselves, which results in short circuits and ultimately useless electronic devices.
The bigger problem lies in the fact that once the ants are electrocuted they release pheromones that attract other ants to the dangerous electrical environment. For this reason people all over the south of the United States have been experiencing the sudden destruction of their electronic equipment. In fact, one exterminator found tens of thousands of tiny crazy ants ravaging the innards of an air conditioner. I have heard of ant infestations, but this news is rather…”shocking.”
Since these ants reproduce with much greater frequency than any other ants known to man, could the larger colonies of crazy ants endanger native ants with smaller colonies?