Cordyceps Fungi and Ants

Note:  The following post is not for the squeamish. You probably shouldn’t watch the videos right before lunch.

Seems like there has been a lot of press lately about the “zombie ants” caused by fungi of the genus Cordyceps. The afflicted ants stagger about before they die, hence the name “zombie.” At the time of death the ant typically attaches itself to a leaf and becomes a stiff fungal-spore salt shaker.

David Attenborough gives a good introduction to the fungus:

Of course, myrmecologists have known about Cordyceps for a long time, but the new interest has lead to some cool new discoveries. In the article by Bateman, it is suggested that the chemical produced by the fungus that makes the ant stumble around may be similar to LSD. Also, weaver ant workers may be able to recognize diseased individuals and may have some behaviors to cope.

The video that accompanies the Bateman article:

Do you think this research would have gotten as much press if they had merely said the ants were infected by a fungus?

For more information:

Daytime bites for zombie ants:  Final death grip for the living dead of the insect world comes at midday by Susan Milius at Science News explores fungal infection of Camponotus leonardi.

Green ant ‘zombies’ affected by deadly fungus attacked by slayers – latest scientific research by Daniel Bateman