Although it may seem weird for a parasite to
alter an animal’s behaviors, there are common
examples of this. For instance, in humans, the
guinea worm causes an infected person to
feel an intense burning in their leg. They then go
into water to relieve the burning which allows the
worm to burst out into the water to complete its
Another example is rabies which destroys
the brain causing the animal to act strangely and
Extending these examples to the cordyceps
fungus in ants, once the fungus penetrates the
ant’s exoskeleton it reproduces. It releases
nerve toxins which reduce the ant’s ability to
control its muscles, causing it to fall down to
the forest floor. This is so that the
fungus can reproduce in the more humid environment
at a lower height. The ant then begins to
climb up a plant and bites a leaf with a high
amount of force. The fungus then destroys the
ant’s muscles so that it can’t move or remove its
jaw from the leaf. Then the fungal stalks grow out
of the ant and release spores to infect more ants.
This “zombie ants” example is extraordinarily
complex compared to other
parasitic control and may in fact alter the brain
in specific ways.
There is still a lot we don’t understand
about how this fungus specifically alters ant
behavior and times the attack.
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