A new study has found that a zombifying ant fungus can be kept at bay by another pathogen.
David Hughes, Penn State University
It turns out that it takes a fungus to control one.
For the first time, researchers have discovered how an ant colony can survive an onslaught of zombie-fungus, also known as Ophiocordyceps, a behavior altering, deadly parasite.
Ophiocordyceps enters an ant's brain, causing it to march to its death at a mass grave. Once the ant is dead, the fungus produces more infectious spores.
In their new study, David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State and his team describe a hyperparasitic fungus – that is, a parasitic fungus that exploits another parasitic fungus – that helps ants to ward off a zombie epidemic.
"In a case where biology is stranger than fiction, the parasite of the zombie-ant fungus is itself a fungus," Hughes said in a statement.
Ants are the dominant creature of all land-based ecosystems. In tropical forests, for example, almost 70% of individual insects are ants. They provide ample opportunities for scientific investigation.