A mind-controlling parasite turns ants into zombies, forcing them to climb to the tops of shrubs, bite down and die. Now, a new study finds that the fungus acts like a puppeteer, somehow “pulling” the ants’ mouth muscles.
The mind-controlling fungus breaks through the ant’s exoskeleton and enters its body, where it begins to grow and spread, said lead author Colleen Mangold, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at The Pennsylvania State University. [Mind Control: Gallery of Zombie Ants]
The first week after being infected, the ants act normally, Mangold told Live Science. But then they begin to have trouble moving and start to have muscle spasms.
“They walk around rather aimlessly and in circles, or they don’t move much at all,” Mangold said. During the last stage of the disease, they find a surface and bite into it — that surface is typically the top of a shrub. After the ants die, the fungus emerges from the ant and seeks out its next victim.