A fungus that turns worker ants into zombie henchmen has a surprisingly clever strategy to recruit new hosts.
The parasite doesn’t attack the nest directly. Rather, the fungus leads ants to their deaths along the outskirts of the colony, creating a “sniper’s alley” where the corpses can discreetly spread deadly fungal spores, new research shows.
The parasitic fungus in question, Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis, is named for the species of carpenter ant that it inhabits, Camponotusrufipes. Under the influence of the fungus, a zombie carpenter ant is led away from its home and forced to climb plants in the understory of the rainforest canopy. After the ant latches onto the underside of a leaf and dies, the fungus sprouts a long stalk from the ant’s cadaver with spores that rain down on the forest floor and infect new ants from the colony that are out on foraging trips