"Zombie Ant" Fungus Under Attack—By Another Fungus
Besieged by a fungus that takes over their brains then erupts from their heads, rain forest ants have an unlikely ally—another fungus.
Ant zombification begins when an Ophiocordyceps fungus shoots spores onto an insect. The parasitic fungus gradually takes over the ant's brain and directs the insect to a cool, moist location. The fungus then kills the ant, and fruiting bodies erupt from the ant's head and spread more spores.
"When you go into the forest, you find graveyards of these [infected] cadavers," said study leader Hughes, of Penn State.
"That would suggest that, for the ants running around the forest floor, it's terribly precarious—it must be festooned with spores of these fungi."
Not so, Hughes and his team discovered.
Combining new data from Brazilian zombie-ant graveyards with from previous studies of Thai graveyards, the scientists realized that an as yet unnamed fungus keeps