Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Zombie-ant fungus is under attack, research reveals

Date:
May 2, 2012
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
A parasite that fights the zombie-ant fungus has yielded some of its secrets to an international research team. The research reveals, for the first time, how an entire ant colony is able to survive infestations by the zombie-ant fungus, which invades an ant's brain and causes it to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony, where the fungus spores erupt out of the ant's head.

A parasite that fights the zombie-ant fungus has yielded some of its secrets to an international research team led by David Hughes of Penn State University. The research reveals, for the first time, how an entire ant colony is able to survive infestations by the zombie-ant fungus, which invades an ant's brain and causes it to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony, where the fungus spores erupt out of the ant's head. This photo shows a zombie ant with the brain-manipulating fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l.) having been castrated by an hyperparasite fungus (white with yellow material).
Credit: David Hughes, Penn State University

A parasite that fights the zombie-ant fungus has yielded some of its secrets to an international research team led by Penn State's David Hughes. The research reveals, for the first time, how an entire ant colony is able to survive infestations by the zombie-ant fungus, which invades an ant's brain and causes it to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony, where the fungus spores erupt out of the ant's head. "In a case where biology is stranger than fiction, the parasite of the zombie-ant fungus is itself a fungus -- a hyperparasitic fungus that specializes in attacking the parasite that turns the ants into zombies," Hughes said.

The research will be published in the journal PLoS ONE.

"The hyperparasitic fungus effectively castrates the zombie-ant fungus so it cannot spread its spores," said Hughes, who is an assistant professor of entomology and biology, and a member of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State. "Because the hyperparasitic fungi prevents the infected zombie-ant fungus from spreading spores, fewer of the ants will become zombies."

As part of their research, the scientists created a detailed model that revealed previously unknown details of the interactions between the fungus-infected ants and the parasite-infected zombie-ant fungus. Scientists previously had known that ants defend their colonies against microscopic enemies such as fungal spores by efficiently grooming each other. In this study, the researchers also modeled the effect of ant behavior on limiting infection. "Interestingly, beyond the well known effect of defensive ant behavior, our new research reveals the added effect of the castrating actions of the hyperparasite fungi, which may result in significantly limiting the spread of the zombie-ant fungus" Hughes said.

The scientists report that only about 6.5 percent of the spore-producing organs of the zombie-ant fungus were viable. "Even though there are a lot of dead and infected zombie ants in the neighborhood, only a few of the spores of the zombie-ant fungus will become mature and able to infect healthy ants," Hughes said. "Our research indicates that the danger to the ant colony is much smaller than the high density of zombie-ant cadavers in the graveyard might suggest. This complex interaction between ant colonies, their brain-manipulating parasites, and other fungi capable of lending assistance to the colony underscores the need to study social insects under natural conditions." Hughes said his team is expanding its efforts and "remains focused on following the exciting theatre played out on the rainforest floor."


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. Sandra B. Andersen, Matthew Ferrari, Harry C. Evans, Simon L. Elliot, Jacobus J. Boomsma, David P. Hughes. Disease Dynamics in a Specialized Parasite of Ant Societies. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (5): e36352 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036352

Cite This Page:

Penn State. "Zombie-ant fungus is under attack, research reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502184708.htm>.
Penn State. (2012, May 2). Zombie-ant fungus is under attack, research reveals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502184708.htm
Penn State. "Zombie-ant fungus is under attack, research reveals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502184708.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 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:
from the past week

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