Flies make ants into zombies?

The attention-grabbing headline above is about a University of Texas at Austin effort to use parasitic flies as a defense against fire ants. Apparently, phorid flies control the fire ant population naturally in South America. From the Associated Press:
The flies lay eggs on the fire ants, and the eggs hatch into maggots inside the ant and eat away at the pest's tiny brain.

The ant will get up and wander for about two weeks while the maggot feeds, said Rob Plowes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

"There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly," he said.

About a month after the egg is laid, the ant's head falls off – and a new fly emerges ready to attack another fire ant.
"New weapon turns fire ants into headless zombies" (Thanks, Jennifer Lum!)


  1. It just takes finding the right parasitic fly.

    Sometimes careful introduction of a foriegn insect species is a good thing. And zombie invasions can’t be worse than fire ant invasions, especially self-decapitating zombies.

  2. Hm. Introduction of a new pest into an ecosystem in order to control an existing pest. What could go wrong with *that* scenario?

  3. I seem to recall these being featured on an episode of “King of the Hill” as an “eco-nomical” product for ridding one’s lawn of fire ants.

    This is exactly what those environmentalists should be spending their time on: Finding ways to use nature against other forms of nature that are inconvenient to man.

    -Hank Hill

  4. #6: that’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death

  5. #1, #4

    I, for one, welcome our new phorid fly wrangling ant zomibe controlling entomologist overlords. (I’m currying favor at the top of the command chain).

  6. It’s actually Texas A&M, not University of Texas. Mistaking one for the other won’t make you very many friends ’round these parts, pardner.

  7. #13

    I thought UT-Austin doing a wildlife related project sounded a bit strange…

    #8 Hopefully, the zombification of fire ants will render them less likely to dine on human flesh, although given that most zombie-movies involve just the opposite…

  8. I love how the author of this news story claims in the headline that this is a “new weapon” to give the story the illusion that this is some how “news.” I recall seeing something on discover channel or whatever about this last year. I’m sure this so called weapon is in fact very old indeed. I’m guessing perhaps only slightly younger than fire ants themselves.

  9. Isn’t there a microorganism that causes ants to climb to the top of a blade of grass and just wait there for a passing grazing animal to ingest it, giving the organism a ride into its gut at the ant’s expense?

    Thank goodness there are no microorganisms that affect our behavior in such a way. And by the way, yes I do support massive subsidies to the brain slug planet.

  10. which is worse, fire ants or zombified fire ants?

    That one’s easy — zombified fire ants are way better — first because if they’re wandering aimlessly, they don’t hear the whistle that the leader must blow to signal all the evil little fuckers to bite you at the same time…and because when the flies hatch, their heads fall off, which means that the evil little fuckers can’t bite you.

    Hurray for phorid flies!

    (that’s so fun to write….their heads fall off.)

  11. Hmm. The interesting part is that it’s the wasps that eat the brains, not the zombies.

  12. Ya, and then in a few years, we’ll have a problem with a phorid flies infestation. Once the ants are gone, they’ll turn to humans as hosts.

    Trade one problem for another.

  13. I imagine this would make for a hit horror film in little tiny ant cinemas. When the head falls off and the fly bursts out of the ant? That’s an ant film “Alien” moment for sure.

  14. my last flight had a stopover on the brain slug planet. sum.zero liked it so much he decided to stay , of his own free will.

  15. Perhaps we could export some of our cane toads to help you with the zombie ant clean up. — Australia

  16. just a question I would like answered nicely, in theory if these flies do this to ants could they not do the same to a human if enough of them attacked? I mean yes it sounds like B-horror movie BS ,but honestly if these things can do that to an ant someone out there is stupid enough or crazy enough to mess with this ability these flies have and could make something of a abomination.

  17. thats kinda cool….i wonder if it could happen to a spider like an arachnid. that would be interesting….

  18. Dang, I got here too late to make any of the Groening show overlord/man interferes with nature/ zombie references.

  19. One wonders, of course, about God’s thoughts as he designed this scenario.

    Fools! Bwaah ha ha ha haaaah! And now for herpes.

  20. I hear they’ll be releasing wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes to take care of the flies.

  21. These flies may actually be even cooler than the article suggests, because there are studies that suggest that besides just nesting in your head, eating your brain, and popping your head off your torso, they also control your brain before they devour it. They make the ants really, really careful up until the point where they’re ready for decapitation, so the fly is guaranteed a good pupating area.

    #18 If you read Carl Zimmer’s “Parasite Rex,” there actually ARE microorganisms that affect the way humans behave–check out toxoplasma, or cat scratch fever. Fortunately we don’t seem to have gotten the “climb to the top of a building and stand there” parasite for humans yet, though.

  22. Actually, they do bite — they grab onto you with their mandibles (e.g., jaws…thus BITE) — and then sting you with the apparatus on the abdomen. So — does the searing pain actually come from the mandibles? No. Do they bite you before they sting you? Yes.

    If you live anywhere in the south, however, you don’t really care what you call it — it’s still ridiculously painful, refuses to heal, can be deadly for small creatures and the allergic,and moves them to the scientific taxonomy of “evil little fuckers”

  23. THis is ridiculous. Then you have a fly problem. Where will it end. Look to something more natural than introducing an alien species into an ecosystem

Comments are closed.