Like something out of a horror movie, scientists recently discovered four specific types of fungi that get inside the brains of ants and turns them into, essentially, zombies. The infected ants do the fungi’s bidding. Each of the four species of parasitic fungi identified by scientists was geared towards infecting a different species of carpenter ant.
Though scientists have known about the possibility of brain-controlling fungi for over a century, recent samples collected in Brazil had shed new light on just how it all works. Though it’s still unclear exactly how fungi can control an ant’s brain, scientists know that infected ants abandon their colony and wander off. For three to nine days, their brains are controlled by the fungus that infected them. Eventually, the infected ants bite down hard on a leaf or tree branch and die. After death, the fungus grows out of the ant’s brain and tries to infect other nearby ants. The whole thing is pretty crazy to see (the good stuff starts around 1:09):
For those who still don’t understand what’s going on, here’s a very detailed and totally scientific diagram:
Now, new details have emerged that threaten the continued success of the zombie ant fungus. It seems that the fungus is threatened by a different fungus. You read that right–we’re dealing with fungus-on-fungus violence here.
This new fungus finds the dead, infected ants and feeds on them. It also eats the fungus that infected them in the first place. This prevents the first fungus from spreading its spores to other ants.
This, of course, is good for ants (the ones not infected yet, at least).
Stay tuned for updates about the yet-to-be-discovered fungus that eats the fungus that infects the ants.