Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful Halloween Special Part 3: Zombie Fungus

Ione Bingley

Breaking news: ZOMBIES exist! Zombie ants have recently been identified under the mind control of the parasotoid fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This is truly the stuff of nightmares, the newly discovered fungus is found in the rainforests of Thailand where is survives by infecting and controlling the minds of carpenter ants. 

However bizarre this may sound, it is in fact no Halloween trick. The evil fungus sits, poised in wait, in the form of millions of microscopic spores dispersed by a mature fungus into the shadowy forest undergrowth. An unlucky carpenter ant wandering through the wrong part of the jungle becomes a welcome victim to the plotting parasite. The fungal spores stick to the carpenter ant’s body and begin to burn through its exoskeleton via the secretion of a powerful catabolic enzyme. The cursed ant continues for two days blissfully unaware of the parasite’s malicious existence; suddenly it cannot help but to obey a powerful impulse to leave the safety of its colony high in the leafy bowers and travel down to the shady underworld a foot above the forest floor where the humidity and temperature are optimal for fungal growth. The zombie-ant, now totally at the mercy of the parasite’s mind control, stumbles to the underside of a leaf, bites into the main vein, irreversibly anchoring itself to the spot, and there silently, resigned to its fate, it dies.

The fungus, however, has not finished with the ill-fated, formic creature. Using the ant’s hard exoskeleton as a refuge, it proceeds to devour its internal organs. Once satiated on its macabre meal, the tentacular main stem of the fungus erupts through the back of the ant’s head, releasing thousands of microspores onto the forest floor, and creating a 10-square foot ‘killing zone’ below the remains of its feast. A treacherous trap is set for the next unfortunate victim. Spooooky stuff….

How to make a zombie ant - David P. Hughes - Harvard University

Check out this gruesome video:

That wraps up Synapse's Halloween special, hope you enjoyed the ride!