Tread Carefully

The Brazilian rain forest would seem to be an ideal place to reside if one were a carpenter ant. Not only is there lots of dead and rotting wood to fashion city galleries from, but the range of exotic and rare hardwoods available, would make wood artists and makers of musical instruments green with envy.

Living quietly in the jungle, however, has its dangers. Whilst trotting about the forest floor on their daily business they can pick up fungal spores. It is much more serious than our human athlete’s foot. Hughes and Evans (1) have identified four new species of the fungus that infects specific variants of our ant buddies.

It is called the “Zombie-Ant Fungus” for good reason Infecting the ants, the fungus releases chemicals, which kill the ant and then it has the temerity to sprout a stalk with a fruiting body from back its host’s head. This would be bad enough, but the chemicals that are killing the ant, are slow acting, mind altering drugs which cause the ant to wander around and finally clamp its mandibles onto the vein on the underside of a leaf in a death grip. A devilish plan that enables the fruiting body to sprinkle its spores widely over the forest floor and so catch the maximum number of unsuspecting ants. Whole colonies can end up decorating the underside of bushes. A sight terrible enough to put any self-respecting ant off her dinner.

Carpenter ants are widespread globally and an Asian family, Camponotus saundersi, can get very excitable and insist on having the last word. They have large mandibular glands that run along their body and when sufficiently irritated, their head explodes, spraying the contents of the glands over all and sundry. Their tormentors are covered in a sticky concoction of toxic chemicals leaving no options for negotiation or apology.


One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    I have seen videos of these poor, afflicted creatures - this fungus is bizarre and seriouly creepy!. I hadn't heard, however, of the exploding heads of the Camponotus saundersi, but can only be thankful that certain members of our species do not follow this vein of behavior to win their heated arguments, else-wise, we're all zombies on this bus!

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