Fungus-infected “zombie” ants are understood to scale a plant, sink their jaws into a leaf or branch and wait to pass away while the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungis delight in the pests’ bodies. Ultimately, a fungal stalk shoots out of the ant’s head and launches spores that drizzle down and contaminate more ants listed below.
The carpenter ants’ part in this headache might appear determined by mind control, however the fungis do not colonize the ants’ brains. Rather, the fungis take control of ants’ jaws, requiring the muscles to contract into a death grip, scientists report July 17 in the Journal of Speculative Biology
To decipher just what the fungi is doing to ants, researchers peered at contaminated ants’ stripy, striated jaw muscle fibers utilizing scanning electron microscopy. “In contaminated muscles at the time of the death grip, … [the] lines appear truly inflamed,” states Colleen Mangold, a molecular biologist at Penn State University. The fungis damage the muscle fibers however do not appear to interrupt the interaction system that manages the muscles.
It’s still a secret how the fungi starts the death grip. However scientists might have discovered an idea: Tiny particles looking like clusters of grapes appear on contaminated muscle fibers.
Mangold and her coworkers believe these particles might be extracellular blisters, or plans of particles, that are produced by either the intruder or the host. If the orbs are blisters, they might include messages utilized by the fungis to take control of ant bodies or contribute in the ants’ reaction, states Mangold.