Zombie-Ants are Puppets

Neues von meinen geliebten Zombie-Ameisen, stellt sich raus: Der Pilz wächst nicht in das Gehirn, sondern verwächst mit den Muskeln zu einem Superorganismus, der das Ameisenhirn intakt lässt und Zellen darin abtötet – der Pilz schneidet die Kommunikation des Gehirns ab. Dann steuert er den Ameisenkörper durch die Zellen des Pilzes selbst, möglicherweise über die Ausschüttung von Botenstoffen im Ameisenkörper, die Muskeln kontraktieren lassen.

„So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar.“ Beautiful bastards.

The Atlantic: How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds (via JWZ)
Paper: Three-dimensional visualization and a deep-learning model reveal complex fungal parasite networks in behaviorally manipulated ants

David Hughes, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been studying it for years. He wants to know exactly how this puppet master controls its puppets—and his latest experiments suggest that it’s even more ghoulish than it first appears.

Hughes’s student Maridel Fredericksen used a special microscope to julienne infected ants into slices that were just 50 nanometers thick—a thousandth of the width of a human hair. She scanned each slice, compiled the images into a three-dimensional model, and painstakingly annotated which bits were ant and which bits were fungus. It took three months to mark up just one muscle. To speed things up, Hughes teamed up with computer scientist Danny Chen, who trained an artificial intelligence to distinguish ant from fungus. […]

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. […] In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over.

Zombie-Ants auf Nerdcore:
48 Millionen Jahre alter Parasitenpilz eating Zombie-Ants found near my Hometown. No, really!
News from the Fungi-controlled Zombie-Ants
The High-Noon Graveyard of the Fungi-infected Zombie-Ants
Zombie Fire Ants!
Killer-Fungi infested Tarantula
Parasite turns Wasps into Zombie Queens