Ants Turned into 'Zombies' by 'Mind-Control' Fungus

A new study shows that the parasite <em>Ophiocordyceps unilateralis</em> infects ants and then manipulates their behavior.

August 18, 2010

The evidence is an ancient fossilised leaf bearing unmistakable traces of a natural horror story.

Dr David Hughes, from the University of Exeter, who studied the find, said: ''This leaf shows clear signs of one well-documented form of zombie parasite, a fungus which infects ants and then manipulates their behavior.''

The parasite, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, appears to take over the minds of infected ants.

The insects are forced to leave their nests and head for a leaf that provides ideal conditions for the fungus to reproduce.

On arrival the ants are compelled to bite hard on a major vein of the leaf before dying. The ''death grip'' leaves the ant in a perfect position for the fungus to grow and release its infectious spores.

The death grip bite leaves a very distinctive mark, and it was this scientists discovered on the 48-million-year-old leaf specimen from the Rhine Rift Valley in Hesse, Germany.

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