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July 10, 2011

Zombies Are Taking Over

10 July 2011

Imagine slowly being taken over by something you didn't know was there?

That's exactly what happens to carpenter ants in Germany, and probably elsewhere.

What's worse is that scientists have found 48 million-year-old evidence that shows this has been happening to the poor carpenter ants for centuries.

Parasitic fungi latches onto the ants as they cross the forest floor. It grows on the inside of the ants and releases chemicals into their bloodstream that alter their behaviour, causing some ants to leave the colony and wander around on their own or they fall from their canopy homes onto the leaves.

Apparently this can happen in the masses, with mass graves of ants found lying between the forest floor and the canopy, clutching into the main vein before dying. This position between the two levels is exactly what the fungus needs.

The evidence showing that this has been happening for millions of years is the piles of fossilised leaves found with the marks made by their mandibles as they were forced into biting.

The fungus grows from the ant, consuming it the larger it gets.


{Photograph: David P Hughes from Guardian.co.uk}