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Zombie Ants
November 4, 2010 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Once the fungus invades its victim’s body, it’s already too late. The invader spreads through the host in a matter of days. . . . Just before dying, the infected body—a zombie—grasps a perch as the mature fungal invader erupts from the back of the zombie’s head to rain down spores on unsuspecting victims below, starting the cycle again. This isn’t the latest gross-out moment from a George A. Romero horror film; it is part of a very real evolutionary arms race between a parasitic fungus and its victims, ants. (SL Smithsonian article)
posted by bearwife (80 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Zombie ants?

Zants.
posted by The Whelk at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our new zombie-ants overlords.

But seriously, creepy as fuck.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:32 PM on November 4, 2010


Easily one of the better moments in Planet Earth
posted by keratacon at 2:36 PM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Previously.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:38 PM on November 4, 2010


Thank god. Someone has to take on those damn ants, and it's not going to be me.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:39 PM on November 4, 2010


Hmm… We're currently fighting ants at the house (when my girlfriend called the landlord, his first response was, "You can't beat ants. They've been around for millions of years," which did not engender optimism), so now I'm wondering where I can get some of this fantastic fungus…
posted by klangklangston at 2:44 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liver flukes and a kind of fly both do similar things. It's tough out there being an ant, what with various creatures always trying to take over your brain.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:46 PM on November 4, 2010


his first response was, "You can't beat ants. They've been around for millions of years," which did not engender optimism

Oh man, the ants have gotten to him too! RESIST KLANG! RESIST!
posted by The Whelk at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


If these are the ants that wipe out everything in their path in South America then good riddance.

If they are the ones that taught Kevin Spacey an important lesson about cooperation (and learned a little about themselves in the process), then this is tragic.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:48 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't beat ants. They've been around for millions of years

Also worth mentioning that all of the ants on earth, aggregated, outweigh all of the humans on earth. Bear in mind that it takes, on average, 1.5 million ants to weigh a single pound.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Note to self: add fungicide to zombie apocalypse readiness kit.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


so now I'm wondering where I can get some of this fantastic fungus…

A fast-spreading disease that is potentially capable of wiping out swaths of an incredibly necessary part of our planet's biodiversity?

Alright, fair enough. It's in the Good Ideas aisle, right next to the Kudzu and Australian rabbits. Oh and you have a coupon!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Swamp Thing
posted by benzenedream at 2:50 PM on November 4, 2010


I should also mention that they are crawling all over you right now under your clothes.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:52 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


wait a second...


Shakespeherian, which is the best thing, a flower from your sweetie, an adorable puppy, or a huge bowl of sugar?
posted by The Whelk at 2:53 PM on November 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


what is the difference between desire and compulsion
posted by lulz at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2010


A huge bowl of... uh... puppies.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:55 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


The part I don't get is if the fungus is so voracious to spread in days (its feeding inside the ant), why doesn't it infect more species?
posted by uni verse at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2010


Megolaponera foetens - Stink Ant Of The Cameroon of West Central Africa
...Driven on by the growth of the fungus, the ant embarks on a long and exhaustive climb. Completely spent and having reached a prescribed height, the ant impales the plant with its mandibles. Thus affixed, the ant waits to die... (The Museum Of Jurassic Technology)
posted by christopherious at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Bacteria will outlast everything...
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2010


Once the fungus invades its victim’s body, it’s already too late...Just before dying, the infected body—a zombie—grasps a perch as the mature fungal invader erupts from the back of the zombie’s head to rain down spores on unsuspecting victims below, starting the cycle again.

Wait. Is this is a duplicate of the "How Republicans Did It" thread?
posted by PlusDistance at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


lulz: "what is the difference between desire and compulsion"

A Calvin Klein ad.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is it wrong that my first impulse was to hope for an ant species that was compatible with two or more of the parasites, so I could infect ants with as many varieties of behavior-modifying creatures and see either who won, or create a zombie ant with multiple personalities (inasmuch as ants can have personalities)?

"I want to attach myself by my mandibles a bit higher up in the canopy. No, wait, I want to attach myself where I will be consumed by grazing animals! Argh!"

Sort of like how the maculinea rebeli caterpillars are tricked into being protected by myrmica schencki ants, only then the ichneumon eumerus wasp throws out another mind-controlling chemical on the ants, and, while they're re-enacting The Crazies, goes in and injects its eggs into the caterpillar's cocoon ... no butterflies hatch out of it, just new wasps. Ants, always the pawns. More like myrmica schmucki, am I right?
posted by adipocere at 3:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


which is the best thing, a flower from your sweetie, an adorable puppy, or a huge bowl of sugar?

Is the puppy exoskeletal in any way?
posted by Gator at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2010


There is a great time-lapse scene of the fungus' growth in Planet Earth.
posted by The Michael The at 3:11 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


All part of God's wondrous creation! Sing! All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.... :-)
posted by Decani at 3:11 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Attenborough from Life on Cordyceps
posted by lalochezia at 3:13 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fascinating, the way things co-evolve. These seem to be a fairly complex behavioral modification the fungus makes in these ants - I really do wonder how this translates to organisms with more complex functions as well. I've heard of the toxoplasma gondii affecting the behavior of rats, making them less fearful of predators so as to help perpetuate the species. (the toxoplasma, not the rodents) - there's even conjecture that this happens in humans, though as far as I know, nothing conclusive.

Also, (and I sincerely don't want to make a religious debate from this, but) this is the kind of weird, unintuitive outcome that shows up in genetic algorithms and evolutionary simulations, but which no one ever "intelligently" designs. You get things that work, and well, but not always for the reasons you would have supposed. Nature is more awesome and strange than anything you could think up.
posted by mrgoat at 3:14 PM on November 4, 2010


After being inhaled, the spore seats in the ant’s tiny brain and begins to grow, causing changes in the ant’s patterns of behavior. The Ant appears troubled and confused; for the first time in its life the ant leaves the forest floor and begins to climb.

Fascinating. I always figured radiation was the primary trigger for evolution. I never thought that madness could be a force of change. Maybe that's what brought our ape descendants out of the trees: a neurosis caused by a pathogen of some form or other infecting the brain.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:14 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


See also... zombie crabs!
posted by Decani at 3:14 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just what makes that deceased ant
Think he can climb that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows undead ants can't
Climb a rubber tree plant

(But he's got bra-ain spores, he's got bra-ain spores)
(He's got molds-gotten-hold-in-the-bra-ain spores)
So, any time you're climbing high, 'stead of waiting to die, just remember fungal implants
Oops, there goes another zombie spore ant
(Oops, there goes another zombie spore ant)
(Oops, there goes another zombie spore ant)
posted by benzenedream at 3:17 PM on November 4, 2010 [25 favorites]


I never thought that madness could be a force of change.

Maybe that's what brought our ape descendants out of the trees: a neurosis caused by a pathogen of some form or other infecting the brain.


Can we have one thread that isn't about politics?

I keed, I keed :)
posted by mrgoat at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2010


Man, the Danny Elfman-like music on that Attenborough video is NOT HELPING.
posted by Gator at 3:19 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leucochloridium paradoxum is my favorite. Zombie snails!
posted by Venadium at 3:19 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's eyes! The horror!

/san loss
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


In our arrogance, we humans continue to delude ourselves that it was mere coincidence Typhoid Mary chose to be a cook-- and repeatedly refused to give up that profession.
posted by jamjam at 3:27 PM on November 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Cordycepts (mentioned above) is a fungus that's been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is now slowly being incorporated into western medicine for its beneficial effects on the liver. Imagine my disgust when I looked up how it's cultivated.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2010


Isn't this like the fifth Cordyceps post in the last year? It's cool and all, but aren't we spending way too much time talking about it? Look, it's here, it's growing out of the top of my head and into my brain, it's controlling my thoughts, it's actively emitting spores. I don't see what the big deal is. Let's all just take a deep breath and move on with our lives; I, for one, have a tree to climb while it's still windy.
posted by monocyte at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


I always wondered at what point did the virus/fungus say to itself "I can has control of ant brain lol!"? Seriously. How do you randomly evolve that shit?
posted by Biru at 3:32 PM on November 4, 2010


Also... What do Zombie Ants chant as they wander ever upward? Sugarrrr... Suuuugaaaaarrrr!!!
posted by Biru at 3:34 PM on November 4, 2010


man, fuck ants.
posted by simonemarie at 3:37 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


See also: Sphexishness.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2010


Even previously-er.
posted by Elsa at 3:51 PM on November 4, 2010


Bear in mind that it takes, on average, 1.5 million ants to weigh a single pound.

Might want to check your math there, dude. I think in metric myself, but this would mean that each ant weights about .0003 grams. I don't think the "being able to carry twenty times their own weight" thing would work out that well when you would need 4,000 of your buddies to pitch in to help carry of a grain of rice.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:55 PM on November 4, 2010


NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE -infinitywaltz

I learned the word "cordyceps" solely to avoid accidentally reading about them in the future :(
posted by heyforfour at 4:02 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I speak for all my formicidae brothers and sisters when I say:

DO NOT WANT
posted by workerant at 4:08 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, is there a list somewhere of the best metafilter repeats? This is by no means a criticism -- I don't catch everything, and each time something recurs it's usually presented in conjunction with different stuff and of course different commentary. But it would be nicely illustrative of the character of Metafilter. Even before the previouslys mentioned above and also this one, there are all the Museum of Jurassic Technology reposts that mention the ants, going back to a 2003 MJT post comment and even one in a MJT post from 2001. I'm sure metafilter must have a list of the top reposted topics somewhere -- and what it means that many of them are along the lines of zombie ants -- but I haven't seen it.
posted by chortly at 4:20 PM on November 4, 2010


Might want to check your math there, dude. I think in metric myself, but this would mean that each ant weights about .0003 grams. I don't think the "being able to carry twenty times their own weight" thing would work out that well when you would need 4,000 of your buddies to pitch in to help carry of a grain of rice.

According to this study, ant worker mass ranges from 2.34 mg to 0.06 mg, depending on species.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:24 PM on November 4, 2010


More zombie caterpillars
posted by Venadium at 4:29 PM on November 4, 2010


Damn, this thread comes along and I always used my one Lovecraft reference for the day.
posted by JHarris at 4:31 PM on November 4, 2010


It's eyes! The horror!

ALL GLORY TO HYPNOSNAIL
posted by smoothvirus at 4:31 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Er, already. dammit. just... dammit
posted by JHarris at 4:32 PM on November 4, 2010


Yeah, I point to this stuff when the greenie weenies get all "NATURAL IS GOOD" up in my face. No, love, natural isn't good. Nature is full of things from rhinoceroses down to viruses that on the very best day don't give a god damn about you and on any other kind of day think of you as either a threat or a meal ticket and treats you accordingly.

And that's why I use all of these chemicals from X Industries -- keeping the world safe for technology.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:55 PM on November 4, 2010


Hmm, so if an average person weighs say 100 pounds (including children, and being conservative), and there are 6 billion people, thats 600 billion pounds of people.

1 pound is 453,592 milligrams, or 226,796 2mg ants (on the larger side according to shakespeherian).

So using what seem to be conservative numbers, that gives us 1.36 * 10^17, or 136 quadrillion (thousand trillion) ants, for there to be at least as much ant weight as human weight.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:59 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The X-Files were right all along!
posted by barnacles at 5:01 PM on November 4, 2010


You know, come to think of it, I'm not afraid of ants. I never was. It's just when they turn into zombies and climb trees to explode their brains at you, eeew, creepy. And isn't sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway?
posted by cmyk at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2010


Hey there, Intelligent Design! LOOK AT WHAT YOUR GOD HATH WROUGHT.
posted by Ritchie at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2010


Or put another way: in the coming ant/human war, each human will have to square off against roughly 22 million ants. Tough odds.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:04 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


that's no moon...
IT'S A FLUKE!!!

Sorry, gotta do the Dennett shout-out.

Cambridge pride!
posted by es_de_bah at 5:25 PM on November 4, 2010


"Scientists are just beginning to study how two species come to occupy the same body and vie for its control. It’s not yet clear what chemicals signals alter the behavior and appearance of parasitized ants and other victims. Somehow fungi and other parasites are manipulating brain chemicals, and one doesn’t have to be a mad scientist to want to understand more. Zombies have a long natural history, stretching back tens of millions of years, and nature is filled with creeping, oozing, blood sucking and otherwise ghastly creatures just as terrifying as anything Hollywood could concoct. Just don’t expect scientists to discover much about sparkling vampires or radioactive dinosaurs with a taste for Japanese cities.


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Scariest-Zombies-in-Nature.html?utm_source=smithsonianinsider&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20101104-insider#ixzz14Mkd0Fbp"
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:11 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


There actually are organisms that have evolved to control the minds and bodies of other creatures, turning once normal individuals into dazed victims that fulfill the parasite’s need to reproduce itself.

The Church? Apple?
posted by doublehappy at 6:33 PM on November 4, 2010


So shooting them in the head is out, I guess.
posted by bwg at 6:39 PM on November 4, 2010


On average, ants monopolize 15–20% of the terrestrial animal biomass.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:53 PM on November 4, 2010


ANT PROPAGANDIST!
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 PM on November 4, 2010


PROPAGANTIST!
posted by Think_Long at 8:39 PM on November 4, 2010


Do you guys get it? I took whelk's thing, but I put "ant" in the word, instead of "and", because ants are the subject of this post.
posted by Think_Long at 8:40 PM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's like toxoplasma gondii, which affects rats brains so they are not afraid of cats. When the cat eats the rat, the parasite can grow in the cat's stomach.

The parasite also affects human behavior.

I'm not sure whether this explains the tea party or if it means that the era of zombies is soon upon us. Either way, I find these kinds of life forms are very upsetting.
posted by eye of newt at 9:05 PM on November 4, 2010


Whelk, you are aware that as soon as you go to sleep, they're going to build a nest in your shoes, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:06 PM on November 4, 2010


With enough ant,s surely there is some way of creating the ultimate ecozombie power source?
posted by fido~depravo at 9:25 PM on November 4, 2010


*smashes a container of cinnamon over shakesperian*
posted by The Whelk at 9:28 PM on November 4, 2010


Or put another way: in the coming ant/human war, each human will have to square off against roughly 22 million ants. Tough odds.

This jerrycan of gasoline and Zippo here would like to disagree with you.

I can probably come up with worse if you don't think that will fry 22 million ants.
posted by zoogleplex at 9:53 PM on November 4, 2010


It's afraid!

Yaaay!

posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:00 PM on November 4, 2010


How much volume would a pound of ants (with intact bodily structure) occupy?
posted by mistersquid at 10:07 PM on November 4, 2010


This jerrycan of gasoline and Zippo here would like to disagree with you.

I can probably come up with worse if you don't think that will fry 22 million ants.


THERE WERE STILL MORE BEES ON THE SWINGSET. CALL IN REINFORCEMENTS. 2 QUARTS OF 87 OCTANE GASOLINE REPORTING FOR DUTY SIR!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


the fluke-infested feces is
then eaten by a snail
who turns
the larval worm into a
cyst
excreted by the mollusk in a
slimy yellow trail
but the snail
is only first on this fluke’s
list

Now you are living as a parasite!
Ain't it easy living as a parasite?

Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird sing "Parasite."
posted by zaelic at 1:30 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Easily one of the better moments in Planet Earth

If by "better moments" you mean "unspeakable horror which comes from beyond the grave to haunt my nightmares and make me a little less sane than from before I saw that segment", then yes.
posted by hippybear at 3:46 AM on November 5, 2010


... his first response was, "You can't beat ants. They've been around for millions of years," which did not engender optimism.

Get yourself some Terro, caulk up any visible holes, and deduct the supply costs from this lazy bastard's rent check.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2010


his first response was, "You can't beat ants. They've been around for millions of years," which did not engender optimism

We get ants every spring (I still haven't found whatever holes they're sneaking in through) and 2 of your standard round metal "bring the poison back to the queen" ant traps seem to do the trick nicely. As soon as I notice the ants, I put down the traps in the two spots that they seem to congregate (presumably somewhere near where they're getting into the house) and within a day or two, no more ants for the rest of the season.

/derail

Zombie ants are awesome, and terrifying.
posted by antifuse at 11:14 AM on November 5, 2010


Ain't it easy living as a parasite?

Great, now I can't get Almost Parasite out of my head.

Oh-oh almost parasite!
We're knocking on heaven's door…
Almost parasite!
How could we ask for more?
I swear that I could see forever
in your eyes…
Parasite

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:58 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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