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The dead body of a zombie ant, Camponotus leonardi, infected by the fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

"Zombie ant" stuck to a leaf, with the fungal stalk growing out of its head.


Here are some background links for the poem, Danse Macabre, about what are referred to as zombie ants, by Ken Sanes:

Wikipedia on zombie ants: "Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitoidal fungus that infects ants such as Camponotus leonardi and alters their behavior. The ant falls from the tree where it normally lives, climbs on the stem of a plant, clamps its mandibles on a leaf and dies there, while the fungus consumes its tissues and grows outside it, releasing its spores. The infected ants are popularly known as zombie ants. This is a prime example of a parasitoid that alters the behavior of its host in order to ensure its own reproduction. Possessed ants march to their death and the fungus lives inside the exoskeleton."

Detailed scientific research article on zombie ants, by David P. Hughes, et al: "Behavioral mechanisms and morphological symptoms of zombie ants dying from fungal infection":

"Here we focus on one of the most dramatic examples of behavioral manipulation, the death grip of ants infected by Ophiocordyceps fungi. We studied the interaction between O. unilateralis s.l. and its host ant Camponotus leonardi in a Thai rainforest, where infected ants descend from their canopy nests down to understory vegetation to bite into abaxial leaf veins before dying. Host mortality is concentrated in patches (graveyards) where ants die on sapling leaves ca. 25 cm above the soil surface where conditions for parasite development are optimal."

The ants, Camponotus leonardi, in their natural state:
"The video shows ants running in a trail on a branch above the forest floor in a tropical forest in Southern Thailand."

What happens after the zombie ant's body is invaded by the fungus, in a video filled with ant-pathos:

"An ant attached by its mandibles to the main vein of a leaf in a tropical forest in Southern Thailand. The ant remains attached until its death and does not respond to external factors such as another ant approaching as in the video."

Two photographs showing a zombie ant stuck to the bottom of a leaf, with the fungal stalk growing out of its head.

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Image is creative commons.


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