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!)