Well, here is another one for the books. I fully expect this to become a movie at some point. Hollywood, don’t disappoint.
The world just got a little weirder: Scientists have identified four new species of brain-controlling fungi that turn ants into zombies that do the parasite’s bidding before it kills them.
Identified from samples collected at two sites in Brazil’s tropical rain forest, each of the four species specializes in controlling a different species of carpenter ant.
The original zombie-ant fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, was first identified in 1865, and it seems to exist around the world.
“So we knew, right off the bat, there was a range of other species within that,” said study researcher David Hughes, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. “I think it will turn out to be in the hundreds.”
Once it infects an ant, the fungus uses as-yet-unidentified chemicals to control the ant’s behavior, Hughes told LiveScience. It directs the ant to leave its colony (a very un-ant-like thing to do) and bite down on the underside of a leaf — the ant’s soon-to-be resting place. Once it is killed by the fungus, the ant remains anchored in place, thanks to its death grip on the leaf.
Ultimately, the fungus produces a long stalk that protrudes from the ant’s head, shooting spores out in the hopes of infecting other ants. Two of the four newly discovered species also sprouted smaller stalks elsewhere, including from the victim’s feet and lower leg joints – the equivalent of knees.