Tag: zombie animals

News Roundup: Zombie Ants Controlled by Newly Discovered Fungi

By Andrew Moseman | March 4, 2011 10:52 am

  • We at DISCOVER have always loved the terrifying specter of zombie animals controlled by menacing wasps, worms, and barnacles. This week there’s a new terror on the loose: Four newly found fungi that grow stalks right through the head of zombie ants in the Brazilian rainforest.
  • No glory for Glory: The NASA climate mission we covered last week—which was to study the interaction of the sun’s radiation, aerosols, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—ended in failure as it did not reach orbit in its launch attempt today.
  • It’s not Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, but a paleontologist’s research suggests that the story of North American survival long ago may have been bison v. mammoth. Eric Scott says the influx of bison from Eurasia may have doomed the saber-tooth cat, mammoth, and other megafauna that couldn’t compete.
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Parasite-Infested Zombie Ants Walked the Earth 48 Million Years Ago

By Andrew Moseman | August 18, 2010 10:25 am

CAntFungusHere’s one that I didn’t touch on in DISCOVER’s creepy gallery of zombie animals controlled by mind-altering parasites: A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that infects a plain old carpenter ant and takes over its brain, leading the ant to bite into the vein that runs down the center of a leaf on the underside. The ant dies shortly thereafter, but the fungus gains the nutrients it needs to grow this crazy stalk out of the ant’s body and release spores to create the next generation of ant-controlling fungi.

This cryptic cycle has been going on for at least 48 million years.

In a study forthcoming in Biology Letters, Harvard’s David Hughes argues that a fossilized leaf found in a fossil-rich part of Germany’s Rhine Rift Valley bears the scars of the ant’s trademark death bite. The ant bites down hard so the fungus will have a stable position when it grows a stalk out of the ant’s head. But even so, Hughes says, he doubted the mark would turn up in the fossil record—that is, until serendipity reared its random head:

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