Feeds

Brain-jacking fungus turns living victims into 'zombies'

Makes them hang from trees as horror nest-womb cocoons

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Scientists say they have discovered a horrific flesh-eating fungus which is able to infect living creatures and turn them into "zombies".

The hapless victims are then compelled to shamble away to a location where their immobilised bodies - as they are gradually consumed from within, acting as food supply and nest to the ghastly fungal offspring - can spray out more spores to seize control of more hosts.

For now, the terrifying Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus appears to be focusing its zombie extermination campaign primarily on carpenter ants of the sort found in the jungles of Thailand.

“The fungus accurately manipulates the infected ants into dying where the parasite prefers to be, by making the ants travel a long way during the last hours of their lives,” says Dr David Hughes of Exeter and Harvard universities.

Having successfully taken over an ant, the fungus compels it to leave its normal haunts high in the forest canopy and directs the unfortunate insect down into the dark, moist basement layers of the jungle. There the luckless creature is compelled to clamber onto the underside of a leaf in the O unilateralis' favoured location for reproduction - some 25cm above the ground, on the northwestern side of the tree or plant in question.

Once in such a location, the dying ant is made to clamp its mandibles - jaws - firmly shut onto the leaf, and then hangs lifelessly from them to become a food supply and home for the burgeoning, ghastly fungus-children within. Most of the insect's innards are gradually converted into food and consumed, but the muscles holding the mandibles shut are cunningly left alone.

In order to prevent any rivals trying to snaffle the nutritious ant corpse, the fungus also forms a protective coating or cocoon over the hanging victim. Presently a stroma or "fruiting body" sprouts from the back of the insect's head and begins to shower drifting spores down on the forest floor beneath - each of which could infect another unlucky passerby.

The fungus' dreadful capabilities were already well-known in the insect-zombification boffin community, but Hughes' latest research has revealed just how precisely the hapless walking-dead ants are controlled. He theorises that the deadly rain of mind-control zombo spores may be why the carpenter ants try to avoid the lower levels of the jungle as much as they can.

Hughes' and his colleagues' new paper, The Life of a Dead Ant: The Expression of an Adaptive Extended Phenotype, can be read by subscribers to The American Naturalist here. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.