The Last of Us, one of the most popular PS exclusive video games, showcased a world where a savage fungus virus was able to destroy a large part of humanity. A version of this fungus exists in nature, and it is as impressive as its virtual equivalent. That fungus turns ants into zombie ants.
It will invade the body of ants, commandeering their moves and guiding them to go above other ants by climbing on a tree. When the ideal position is reached, the ant will bite a twig, forcing its head to explode and release a large number of spores to spread the fungus.
A team of researchers decided to conduct an in-depth study of the fungus which is known under the name of Ophiocordyceps, learning valuable information about it in the process, including how it forces the ants to commit suicide.
Zombie Ants Are Real, And A Fungus Make Them Like That
A spore of the fungus will start to consume the exoskeleton of an ant from the moment when it lands on it, drilling until it finds its way towards the innards of the creature. It will start to affect the hyphal tubes, which form a network connected to the muscles of the ant. The most interesting information comes from the fact that the fungus will not reach the brain, nor does it want to, as it aims to and manages to control the mandibles, which are used for biting.
The team of researchers employed a powerful electron microscope to study the mandibular muscles of the zombie ants. They discovered that they seem to be locked in a state of forcible contraction. The fungus was also keen on removing a sheath which protects the muscle fibers but it the neuromuscular junctions which allow neurons to send instructions to the muscles was kept intact.
The power of the contractions is so intense that it ruins the muscles, leaving them unable to open again and locking the ant in the desired position. The study was published in a scientific journal.
Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.