Scientists have found zombie ants in the Brazilian rainforests. How can that be?
The ants are infected by a fungus. As a matter of fact, scientists have just found four new species of the zombie creating fungus, Ophiocordyceps.
Fungi produce little seed like particles called spores. If an ant gets infected by one, the fungus hijacks its brain. Instead of doing its normal chores, the ant starts searching for the ideal location for the fungus to grow.
It's Not Just Wandering?
No. Scientists have found that infected ants go to specific locations: beneath leaves on the north sides of plants, about ten inches above the ground, in 94-95% humidity, and at 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.
Experiments have shown that if infected ants are moved from those locations, the fungus won't develop. Once in ideal locations, the ants bite down on the leaf's vein and the fungus grows hyphae, or fungal threads, throughout their bodies.
When the fungus is large enough, it sends up a reproductive shoot called a fruiting body. The ant looks like it has a horn or antlers growing out of its head. New spores rain down from the fruiting body and infect more ants.