Parasitic fungus controls ants

treecutters.jpgPhoto: David Dennis Researchers at Harvard University are studying a parasitic fungus that infects ants, affects their behavior, then sends them to a fungus-friendly death. Here's Ian Sample at The Guardian:
The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy. The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.
At the end, the infected ant will move under the leaf and latch onto the central vein, an ideal place for fungus to spread. The paper abstract:
Parasites commonly manipulate host behaviour, and among the most dramatic examples are diverse fungi that cause insects to die attached to leaves. This death-grip behaviour functions to place insects in an ideal location for spore dispersal from a dead body following host death.
Fossilized leaves reveal thatOphiocordyceps unilateralis has been up to this since before the Himalayas rose, but scientists say that it's not clear how the fungus controls the ants: "The question now is, what are the triggers that push a parasite not just to kill its host, but to take over its brain and muscles and then kill it." (Pictured above is a Treecutter Ant, which farms leaves to take to their nests, upon which grows the fungus they actually eat) [Guardian via Submitterator. Thanks, Plathypus!]


  1. And this differs from the relationship between the defense industry and our current military deployments how?

  2. This a lot like how people with an idea will grab hold of an inappropriate metaphor and refuse to let it go.

    1. I said that on the submitterator side too! :)

      I guess our comments don’t follow us over here from over there? Boo-urns!

  3. Read somewhere or other that a particular puffball cordyceps times the swelling of the ant’s head with fungus spores so that it doesn’t explode until the ant has reached the top of the canopy.

  4. I remember the novel Hothouse / The Long Afternoon of Earth / The Sun is Dying (it had several versions and titles) by Brian Aldiss had an intelligent, symbiotic fungus named The Morel. The Morel didn’t exactly take over your mind, it’s more like they/it attached to your body and spoke to you telepathically. This story made me wonder if that’s where Aldiss got the idea.

  5. Have they identified this as a strain of agrobacterium???… That stuff is in the chemtrail spray. It causes Morgellon’s Disease and does the same thing to humans.

  6. I remember seeign somehting like this (maybe not the exact thing) in one of Attenborough’s older series I think.
    ALso reminds me of the bird parasite that infects snails, controls them to get them some place high, and make the snail’s eyes bulge out so that birds notice and eat the parasite. Crazy stuff!

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