Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Zombie ants have fungus on the brain, new research reveals

Date:
May 9, 2011
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
Tropical carpenter ants (Camponotus leonardi) are turned into "zombie ants" when infected by the parasitic fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis). Infected ants become erratic and zombie-like, and are manipulated by the fungus into dying at a spot that provides optimal conditions for fungal reproduction. New research looks at altered behavior patterns in zombie ants in Thailand and shows how the fungus manipulates ant behavior.

This is a dead carpenter ant attached to a leaf in the understory of a Thai forest. Before killing the ant, the fungus growing from ant's head changed the ant's behavior, causing it to bite into the leaf vein.
Credit: David Hughes, Penn State University

New research has revealed how infection by a parasitic fungus dramatically changes the behavior of tropical of carpenter ants (species Camponotus leonardi), causing them to become zombie-like and to die at a spot that has optimal reproduction conditions for the fungus. The multinational research team studied ants living high up in the rainforest canopy in Thailand.

Related Articles


A paper describing the research will be published in the BioMed Central open-access journal BMC Ecology on 9 May 2011.

"The behavior of these infected zombie ants essentially causes their bodies to become an extension of the fungus's own phenotype, as non-infected ants never behave in this way," said David P. Hughes, the first author of the research paper and an assistant professor of entomology and biology at Penn State University.

Using transmission-electron and light microscopes, the researchers were able to look inside the ant in order to determine the effect of the fungus on the ant. They found that the growing fungus fills the ant's body and head, causing muscles to atrophy and forcing muscle fibres to spread apart. The fungus also affects the ant's central nervous system. The scientists observed that, while normal worker ants rarely left the trail, zombie ants walked in a random manner, unable to find their way home. The ants also suffered convulsions, which caused them to fall to the ground. Once on the ground, the ants were unable to find their way back to the canopy and remained at the lower, leafy understory area which, at about 9 or 10 inches (25 cm) above the soil, was cooler and moister than the canopy, provided ideal conditions for the fungus to thrive.

The scientists found that at solar noon, when the Sun is at its strongest, the fungus synchronised ant behavior, forcing infected ants to bite the main vein on the underside of a leaf. The multiplying fungal cells in the ant's head cause fibres within the muscles that open and close the ant's mandibles to become detached, causing "lock jaw," which makes an infected ant unable to release the leaf, even after death. A few days later, the fungus grows through the ant's head a fruiting body, a stroma, which releases spores to be picked up by another wandering ant.

"The fungus attacks the ants on two fronts: first by using the ant as a walking food source, and second by damaging muscle and the ant's central nervous system," Hughes said. "The result for the ant is zombie walking and the death bite, which place the ant in the cool, damp understory. Together these events provide the perfect environment for fungal growth and reproduction."

Hughes said his continuing research at Penn State is designed to learn how the fungus might be used to control pest insects in homes and farms.

In addition to Hughes, other members of the research team include Sandra Andersen and Jacobus J Boomsma in Denmark, Nigel L Hywel-Jones and Winanda Himaman in Thailand, and Johan Billen in Belgium. This research was funded by a Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to David Hughes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. David P Hughes, Sandra Andersen, Nigel L Hywel-Jones, Winanda Himaman, Johan Billen and Jacobus J Boomsma. Behavioral mechanisms and morphological symptoms of zombie ants dying from fungal infection. BMC Ecology, 2011; DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-11-13

Cite This Page:

Penn State. "Zombie ants have fungus on the brain, new research reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110509065536.htm>.
Penn State. (2011, May 9). Zombie ants have fungus on the brain, new research reveals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110509065536.htm
Penn State. "Zombie ants have fungus on the brain, new research reveals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110509065536.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins