The Fungus That Makes The Dead Alive Again: Zombie Ant Fungi

The Fungus That Makes The Dead Alive Again: Zombie Ant Fungi

This fungus is simultaneously the coolest and creepiest thing I've ever learned about.

You are an ant, deep in the tropical forests of South America. You’re just minding your own business, doing your daily foraging like every other worker ant, when you pass under a leaf. You pause. Something seems… amiss. You can’t sense any immediate danger, though, so you continue on your merry way.

Little did you know, you’ve been infected.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has gained media attention in recent years because of the flat-out creepy way that it reproduces. It sounds like something out of science-fiction, but it's arguably one of the coolest animals out there. The process of infection starts when a spore lands on the exoskeleton of an unsuspecting ant. The ant is none-the-wiser as the spore drills through its hard shell and makes a home in its body. For the next two days, the fungus grows and replaces much of the ant's innards.

O. unilateralis then induces full-body convulsions that cause the ant to fall to the forest floor. The mind-controlled ant crawls up a leaf stalk about three feet off of the forest floor and then anchors onto the underside of the leaf in a "death grip." The fungus kills the ant and grows a stalk from the back of the corpse's head. When the stalk matures, it releases spores in an attempt to infect more unsuspecting ants foraging on the forest floor below.

Why is O. unilateralis significant? Well, beyond the fact that it's really cool, it acts as a natural population management tool for when jungle carpenter ant populations get too big. It also has medicinal potential, among other things, such as showing promise for anti-tumor, immunity and other health property activities. Also, oddly enough, the zombie fungi produces red and purple pigments under certain conditions, which makes them viable for food coloring.

Some other food for thought is the new type of Ophicordyceps fungus discovered in 2014 by a student from University of Louisiana-Lafayette. This other species displayed similar behavior, targeting only queen ants instead of regular carpenter ants, and thus, it carries more devastating potential to jungle ant colonies.

As a zombie enthusiast and science geek, I personally find this fungus one of the most fascinating things on the planet. A friend of mine, on the other hand, gasped and asked in horror if the fungus could infect humans when I told her about it. I was sorely tempted to say yes, just to mess with her. Post-apocalyptic videogames like "The Last of Us," which features an evolved form of Cordyceps that turns people into zombies, explore the possibility of what would happen if the fungus could spread to humans, however the events of the game are purely fictional. Cross-species transmission is only really applicable to viral and some bacterial diseases, so Ophiocordyceps poses no danger to humans... as of yet.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr / Penn State

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30 Bee Puns To Get You Through The Day

These puns are as sweet as honey.

There are few things in life that make me happier (and/or make me want to bury my face in my hands and groan loudly) than a well timed pun. This goes double if the pun involves some my favorite insects — bees. There's nothing quite as satisfying as uttering a bee pun when no one expects it, so here is a list of the top 30 bee puns around!

Use these puns to make your grandparents laugh, impress your date, spice up your Tinder profile, make friends with a beekeeper, break the ice at your new job or make everyone in the general vicinity wish they hadn't invited you to come hang out with them. You won't bee-lieve how many of these puns you'll be pollen for! You'll bee-come an instant hit at parties! You'll bee sure to thank me later.

1. "When a bee is in your hand, what's in your eye? Beauty. Because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder."

2. "Bee puns really sting.

3. "Who's a bee's favorite singer? Bee-yoncé."

4. "What's a happy bumblebee's blood type? Bee positive!"

5. "Bee puns aren't that great. I don't get what all the buzz is about."

6. "Wasp are you talking about?"

7. "Naughty bee children really need to beehive."

8. "What kind of bees drop things? Fumble bees!"

9. "A bee's favorite haircut is a buzz cut!"

10. "What do you call a bee that's a sore loser? A cry bay-bee!"

11. "What's a bee's favorite flower? Bee-gonias!"

12. "Why do bees get married? Because they found their honey!"

13. "That bee is talking too quietly, it must be a mumble-bee!"

14. "Bee children take the school buzz to get to school."

15. "A bee's favorite sport is rug-bee."

16. "The bees went on strike because they wanted more honey and less working flowers."

17. "On the first day of class, bee students are given a sylla-buzz."

18. "What did one bee say to the other when they landed on the same flower? Buzz off."

19. "Who's a bee's favorite painter? Pablo Bee-casso!"

20. "A bee styles their hair with a honeycomb."

21. "When a bee writes a sonnet, they're waxing poetic."

22. "The worker bee decided to take a vacation to Stingapore last year."

23. "A bee that's been put under a spell has been bee-witched!"

24. "Say, these bee puns aren't too shab-bee."

25. "That pretentious wasp is just plain snob-bee!"

26. "Why did the bee want to use the phone? To say hi to their honey."

27. "A bee's favorite novel is the Great Gats-bee."

28. "What's a bee's favorite Spice Girls song? Wanna-bee!"

29. "What do bees like with their sushi? Wasa-bee!"

30. "Remember, bee puns are good for your health, they give you a dose of Vitamin Bee!"

Cover Image Credit: Fanaru

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It's More Than just Straws

Let's work a little harder for those sea turtles.


Happy 2018! The greater part of the western world has finally realized that we are overproducing at a rate that is creating an excess of plastic waste that has now polluted a huge portion of the world's oceans. I could not be more ecstatic that people are realizing the issue at hand; plastic is not a realistic option if we want to continue to nourish and live on the big, blue planet Earth.

As a result of this realization, most companies and restaurants are now either working to ban or eliminate all straws from production, as a result of consumer action. Yay! Our voices are being heard and production of plastic is decreasing as a result! This is a huge step for civilization and for the environment. The sea turtles are thankful.

So, you stopped asking for a straw at dinner or with your coffee, which is great! But, it doesn't have to stop there! There is still so much plastic waste being created and used at a nearly unsustainable rate. I encourage you to look for other non-plastic or low-waste alternatives in your lifestyle. Not using a straw is an excellent way to get your foot in the door of green living! Here are some great ideas to look into if you're interested in helping the turtles out just a little extra.

1. Try to cut down on eating out

The fast food industry produces so much sage-use waste. Think about the things you throw away after a McDonalds run that were used once and will end up in a land fill! Consider setting more time aside to make good, low-waste food a priority. Not only will you wallet thank you, but so will your waistline AND the sea creatures. Win, win, win!

2. Re-think your routine and consider waste-free alternatives

Take a moment and think about how much plastic you use in your daily routine, for instance, in the bathroom. There's a huge amount of plastic used both in most skin routines and in the shower. Now, companies are developing waste-free alternatives for the shower, like shampoo and conditioner bars as well as face cleansers that pack a whole routine into one face wash. Re-examine other areas of your life and see where you can cut out plastic! (There are so many smell-good options for shampoo bars out right now)

3. Watch your carbon footprint contribution

I know every once in awhile everyone likes to take a long, hot shower, but try to cut the majority of showers down to five minutes or less. Unplug electronics when they aren't being used. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Utilize natural light. Spend more time outside by biking to class versus driving those 4 blocks. Get toned legs and save the earth in the process! You go sis!

4. Switch to non-plastic alternatives when possible

Plastic eating utensils, plastic bags, and plastic water bottles are all super easy swaps in an everyday routine. You can customize your new water bottle with Mo State stickers. Reusable bags at the grocery store means no more having thousands of plastic bags under the kitchen sink. Amazon has some awesome bamboo eating utensils on sale for cheap that are reusable, cute, and biodegradable when you are done using them. (These even come with a travel case)

5. Consider a minimalist or low-waste lifestyle

For those of you looking for a sure-fire way to cut out unneeded plastics or belongings in your life, minimalism is for you! It is a lifestyle prompted by the idea that human beings are supposed to be living with less than we currently do. An excellent place to start, if you are interested, is the minimalist documentary on Netflix or their consequent podcasts available for streaming on Spotify. You'll declutter your life, feel more productive, and create less waste in the process. (Super cool dudes living for the right reasons)

With a little extra effort, we can all take more steps towards living with less and living with less waste. Let's do it for those sea turtles!

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