The Zombie Apocalypse Starts Small – With Ants
Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis is a parasitic fungus that infects carpenter ants with deadly spores. Under the influence of the fungus, the ants become mindless zombies driven to climb plants, latch onto the undersides of leaves, and die. Then the fungus sprouts a long stalk from the ant corpse, which then rains new spores down onto the ant colony, creating an ant zombie outbreak.
A recent study has shown that the ants are generally directed to create this death grip on leaves around the colony the edges of the colony, where they will and begin to grow the fungus, putting at risk the other ants coming and going from the colony. According to researchers, the fungus uses this tactic to create a sort of “sniper’s alley” that forces ants to pass through infected areas, greatly increasing risk of infection.
Gamer fans may recognize the cordyceps from the recent video game hit The Last of Us, in which a species of cordyceps jumps from its traditional host to human. In the game, the parasitic fungus becomes the cause of a zombie outbreak that wipes out a large portion of the human population. But don’t worry – scientists have discovered no such species in reality. Still, it’s worrying even to know that such a fungus exists. And with the speed of evolution in short-lived species, who knows whether the fungus might make a jump to humans in the future?