A stalk of the newfound fungus grows out of a “zombie” ant’s head
Originally thought to be a single species, called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus is actually four distinct species—all of which can “mind control” ants—scientists announced Wednesday.
The fungus species can infect an ant, take over its brain, and then kill the insect once it moves to a location ideal for the fungi to grow and spread their spores.
All four known fungi species live in Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest, which is rapidly changing due to climate change and deforestation, said study leader David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University.
Hughes and colleagues made the discovery after noticing a wide diversity of fungal growths emerging from ant victims, according to the March 2 study in the journal PLoS ONE.
“It is tempting to speculate that each species of fungus has its own ant species that it is best adapted to attack,” Hughes said.
“This potentially means thousands of zombie fungi in tropical forests across the globe await discovery,” he said. “We need to ramp up sampling—especially given the perilous state of the environment.”
Now, if the stalks extending from the skulls of zombie ants could be used to communicate, produce a hive mentality like some kind of ant-Borg, we could produce a film scary enough, profitable enough, to fund studies for quite a while.
Thanks to wok3
I read a lot of science news. Science has been a preoccupation of mine since I picked up my first copy of Thrilling Wonder Stories at our neighborhood drugstore on the way home from school at the age of 8.
Over at the “big” blog, the boss calls these my “weird science” posts. Which is only a jest because, in fact, he understands them – just hates to admit it when they contradict his politics.
Anyway, I don’t keep up with posting them all and usually delete the majority from storage. Silly. Why not offer a roundup, once in a while – and let you choose what to read and what to skip:
A newly discovered skeleton of an ancient seabird from northern Chile provides evidence that giant birds were soaring the skies there 5-10 million years ago. The wing bones of the animal exceed those of all other birds in length; its wingspan would have been at least 5.2 m (17 ft.).
Satellite photo of deforestation and fires in Matto Grosso, Brasil
Brazil took a step forward in protecting the Amazon rainforest this week, starting satellite surveillance of the cattle ranches that are among the chief culprits in the forest’s destruction.
The agriculture ministry will monitor more than 15,000 cattle ranches, many of which were established by clearing forested land, and stop ranchers from selling their cattle if they expand farms further by encroaching upon the rainforest.
“We can now say that Brazil is doing its part,” said Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes at the launch of the plan in Para, one of several states in the north of Brazil over which the world’s largest rainforest sprawls…
The scheme is one of the few measures taken to date by the farming ministry to control ranchers, showing heightened awareness of the link between success in exporting and the foreign consumers’ desire for more ecologically sound produce…
Ranchers who have been identified via the satellite images as illegally claiming forested land to expand their pastures will be unable to obtain a permit enabling them to transport their cattle to slaughterhouses.
Mozambique — Five years ago, few knew there was a forest here. Its discovery by the scientific community is down to a very 21st-Century research tool.
“I used Google Earth to locate all the mountains over 1,500m that were closest to Mount Mulanje in Southern Malawi,” Dr Julian Bayliss, head of the cross-border conservation project, told me.
“Mount Mabu was selected through Google Earth as one of these sites.”
Dr Bayliss’s project, funded through a British scheme called the Darwin Initiative, looked for similarities between different patches of medium altitude rainforest. When images of Mount Mabu were analysed, it became clear that there was a large patch of dark green of which there was no official record.
A quickly arranged visit to northern Mozambique confirmed what Dr Bayliss had suspected.
“It was at that stage I realised that we were dealing with what looks like the biggest rainforest in Southern Africa,” he said.
Travelling with Dr Bayliss and a team of scientists on to Mabu, I saw what had so excited them. Unlike most of the forests in southern Africa there was no sign of any logging or burning having taken place. The 7,000 hectares of Mount Mabu are in pristine condition.
RTFA. Enjoy the excitement of discovery. Listen in on the thoughts of scientists exploring an island of life that no one thought existed.
I’ve done local archaeological work using Google Earth. I live on one of the traces of El Camino Real – the royal highway from Mexico City to Colonial Santa Fe. I found and traced ancient ruts across the southern half of the Caja del Rio with Google Earth. Then, walked the route. Just for the fun of it.