Zombie Ants

African ant (Pachycondyla sp) attacked by an insect eating Fungus (Cordyceps sp) Guinea, West Africa. Photo © PIOTR NASKRECKI/ MINDEN PICTURES/National Geographic Creative

A few years ago I wrote about a curious and very specific relationship between some beetles and their wood-eating fungus symbiotic partner, and we’ve also shared other work on crazy parasitic creatures that can alter their hosts’ behavior, sometimes pretty radically (warning, creepy video). Believe it or not, the photo above isn’t some weirdly-antlered African ant–well, actually it is, but the antlers aren’t part of the ant’s body, they’re the spore-spreading apparatus of a parasitic fungus. Read on for more about the real-life World War Z that has been going on between ants (as well as other insects) and a family of zombifying fungi for millennia.

Earlier this week I went to a lecture hosted by Cornell’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior titled “Zombie Ants: the precise manipulation of animal behavior by a fungal parasite.” The lecturer was David Hughes, Professor of Entomology at Penn State University, whose faculty webpage provides PDF links to most of the articles that he has contributed to if you’re interested in checking out the actual journal pieces on this topic.  Continue reading