AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Zombie Apocalypse? Yes, it’s happening right now.

Most of us would think that a zombie apocalypse is simply a fantasy seen in scary movies. However, in Brazil, this freaky fantasy has rapidly turned into reality for some unfortunate carpenter ants. In the Brazilian rainforests, one could find carpenter ants whose jaws are forever locked onto a leaf, with a fungus growing right through the dead ant’s face. This is a result of the deadly zombie-like fungi that is brutally murdering ants, otherwise known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. 

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis initially infects its victims through spores that are launched from other zombie-ant fungi. The fungus initially penetrates the ant’s exoskeleton as singular cells, but eventually begins multiplying rapidly to form an inviolable fungal network.  This network engulfs the ant’s nervous system and muscles, and eventually the ant capitulates to the parasitic fungi. The ant slowly begins to deteriorate, beginning with simple actions like leaving its colony, to eventually losing full control of its body and dying. However, before the horrible death that the ant suffers, lots of actions take place within the ant’s body. After leaving its colony, the fungi commands the ant to move to a height of approximately 10 inches above the ground. This is done because it is the ideal height for the humidity that the fungi needs to proliferate and flourish inside the ant’s body. Next, the fungi commands the ant use its jaws to permanently form a death grip into a twig or leaf, so it will never move its body ever again. After inevitably killing the ant, the fungi proceeds to grow right through the face of the ant, where it will consequently release more spores to be spread to other ants. Over time, the fungi will spread quickly, and zombify entire colonies of ants.

It’s seriously wild to think that fungi in Brazilian jungles are brutally murdering and zombifying ants by taking over their entire bodies! Moreover, it is crazy that something as simple as a single celled fungi that enters an ant’s blood flow is powerful enough to expeditiously wipe away an ant’s entire life. With over 400 different species of this fungi in the wild, we can expect the ant zombie apocalypse to continue in the jungles of Brazil.




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1 Comment

  1. kangyotype

    Wow I was shocked to see how a fungus can completely take over the mind of a carpenter ant in order to survive and reproduce. It is able to get the ant to move to a more elevated surface for the perfect amount of humidity. Afterwards, the ant anchors onto a leaf or twig to stay put where the fungus can kill the ant and spread to other ants. I wonder how there aren’t any zombie movies about ants but about humans. I’ve found an article about other animals who have fallen victim to parasites that control their actions. In one case, a parasitic wasp lays its larvae in the Costa Rican spider and also codes for the spider to build a cocoon instead of a web for the larvae to live when they kill the spider. It is amazing to see the crazy ways in which animals try to survive and reproduce.

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