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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45 Things Day Care Workers Say All Too Often

Toddlers are pretty much tiny, drunk people.

Being the keeper of tiny humans can be a very interesting job. You are constantly breaking up arguments, cleaning up messes, trying to keep them safe, and telling them not to do things that are well, sometimes pretty weird. They do and say the strangest things that'll make you wonder what is really going on in their little heads.

1. "No no no, don't do *something crashes to the floor* ....that."

2. "Bubbles in your mouths every body!"

3. "No, we don't eat our friend's snack."

4. "Hands to yourself."

5. "Get off of the table before you hurt yourself."

6. "Why do we even give them spoons?"

7. "We don't put toys in our mouths"

8. "Did you wash your hands?"

9. "Where do we run? Where are we right now?"

10. "Where are your shoes?"

11. "We don't talk like that here."

12. "Go tell them you're sorry"

13. "Get your finger out of your nose"

14. "Inside voices please!"

15. "Every one find a buddy."

16. "Ew ew ew, some body get me a tissue!"

17. "How did your shoes untie already? I just tied them five minutes ago."

18. "We do nice with our hands."

19. "Oh god, it's spaghetti day."

20. "Please, do not put noodles in your hair."

21. "Hold hands until we are on the play ground!"

22. "5 little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head..."

23. "Do you have to poop?"

24. "Well you should at least try."

25. "Why didn't you go to the potty before we went outside."

26. "If I hear "Let it go" one more time..."

27. "Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog.."

28. "Mommy and Daddy will come back, I promise."

29. "No, no biting!"

30. "She had it first, you'll just have to wait until she's done."

31. "Ew, why are you dipping everything in applesauce?"

32. "Now, are you going to eat the vegetable with the ranch or just the ranch?"

33. "Then why did you say you weren't eating snack?"

34. "Put your arms back in your sleeves."

35. *Five minutes before closing* "Where are your parents??"

36. "I finally got him to sleep, everyone be quiet."

37. *You see one eye open* "Oh no..."

38. "Wow, all your kids are still sleeping!?" (We wish we said this more often)

39. "Don't eat that, it was on the floor!"

40. "Glue the google eyes on here." *puts the eyes anywhere but there*

41. "Stop fighting over who's going to turn off the lights, you'll get a turn tomorrow."

42. "Don't shove so much food in your mouth at once, you'll choke!"

43. "Chew and swallow your food before you get up."

45. "Don't touch anything until we wash your hands!"

As weird as these small people are, they are some of the sweetest beings on the planet. And although they drive you crazy, at the end of the day, they make you love your job.

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If You Have 20/20 Vision, You Can’t See These 10 Annoying Problems Anyone Who Wears Glasses Can

Forget plastic surgery. I want lasik eye surgery.


Being "blind" is not fun, and it's not for everyone. I started wearing glasses in the 3rd grade and I tried everything to avoid getting them. That whole "carrots are good for your eyes" thing is totally a lie! I ate so many carrots thinking it was going to help but it did nothing. Having glasses is super annoying and I'm about to tell you why...

1. They get dirty so fast.


Honestly I feel like I'm always cleaning them.

2. People always want to try them on.


Then, even worse, they hit you with the, "Wow, you really can't see". Uhhh no Susan I can't.

3. You can't lay down in them.


Whenever you lay on your side, your glasses do the thing.

4. Once you put them down, you can't find them.


If I'm wearing contacts and I'm doing my makeup, I'll throw my glasses on my bed and then have to feel around for them.

5.  You can't wear cute sunglasses.


Double glasses is a major no.

6. You can't see what you look like when you're picking out new ones.


Reasons my glasses have not always been the cutest.

7. You miss spots when you shave.


The struggle is real when you're trying to shave and you can't even see two inches in front of you.

8. Swimming...


Either you swim blind or you swim with the risk of breaking and/or losing your glasses

9. Getting asked why you don't wear contacts.


Because I work at 3 and 4 a.m. or I have class at 8 a.m. Contacts are for special events because I'm lazy.

10. The eye doctors.


Okay, so the eye doctor actually isn't bad, but you have to go over every time you start to squint your eyes, which for me is every 6 months.

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