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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New zombie ant fungi

The South American rainforests contain fungi that enslave and kill ants. Thanks to the work of Harry Evans and Simon Elliot of Federal University of Vi├žosa, and of David Hughes from Penn State University, we can add four new species of parasitic fungi to the pantheon.

These four new subspecies of fungi, which fall within the genus Ophiocordyceps, prey on different species of carpenter ant. In each case, upon infection the fungus takes over the ant’s brain, forcing the ant to attach itself to a suitable location for spore dispersal. It is the manipulation of the ant’s behavior that earns these fungi the name ‘Zombie ant fungus’. After the ant is placed to the fungus’ satisfaction, one or more fruiting bodies grow out of the ant’s head. These stalks serve to disperse new spores that can continue the fungi’s life cycle.

And now we have four more kinds of these little parasites. Here’s some footage of this kind of fungi narrated by David Attenborough, though if you’re squeamish, you may not wish to watch.

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