A stalk of the fungus species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani, grows out of a "zombie" ant's head in a Brazilian rain forest.

An unsuspecting worker ant in Brazil's rainforest leaves its nest one morning. But instead of following the well-worn treetop paths of its nest mates, this ant stumbles along clumsily, walking in aimless circles, convulsing from time to time.

At high noon, as if programmed, the ant plunges its mandibles into the juicy main vein of a leaf and soon dies. Within days the stem of a fungus sprouts from the dead ant's head. After growing a stalk, the fungus casts spores to the ground below, where they can be picked up by other passing ants.


The four newly identified "zombie" fungi species use different techniques to spread after infecting an ant, the researchers found.

Some of the fungi species create thin "infection pegs" that stick out from a victim's body and infect passing ants, Hughes said.


Other fungus species develop explosive spores on infected ants' bodies. When other ants come near the cadavers, the shooting spores can hit the unwitting passersby, turning them too into zombie ants.
Fossil evidence implies that this zombifying infection might have been happening for at least 48 million years.


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