Fungus that turns ants into zombies is sensitive to climate

The fungus, which transforms infected ants into helpless zombies, has adapted to climatic conditions in different parts of the world, modifying the behavior of its victims. Scientists studying zombie ants have observed that different species tend to hang on to different parts of the plant. While some show a penchant for leaves, others bite twigs – and it depends on the climate.

The destructive spores of the fungus attack the nervous system and force victims to behave in a certain way. A recent study published in the journal „Evolution” prove that in the process of evolution, the fungus has adapted to the changing conditions of theoin climate and differently affect the behavior of its victims in roof different parts of the world.

Mrowki-zombies are not a cheap gimmick from a bad horror movie, but a fairly common phenomenon found on most of the continentoin and affecting about half of known speciesoIn mrowek. The parasitic fungus is named after it Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Mrowki are infected by spores of the fungus falling from altitude. Once an insect is infected, it attacks its nervous system and virtually takes control of the victim’s movements.

The unfortunate insect is literally eaten from the inside by the fungus, ktory forces him to climb high into a tree. There mrowka catches a twig or leaf firmly in its jaws. It dies quickly thereafter, but still remains attached to the plant. Meanwhile, the fungus develops inside the body of its victim, eventually breaking through its head and spreading its deadly spores, ktore falling to the ground will infect another unlucky mrowki.

Entomology and biology professor David Hughes of Pennsylvania State University and his team studied the behavior of fungus-infected mrowek from different cornersoin the world. – In tropical areas mroZombie worms bite leaves, but in the temperate zone they are more likely to grasp twigs or bark – mowi Hughes.

Such a choiceor of the parasite is not unfounded. In temperate climates, trees shed their leaves. This means that the fungus does not moheads to attack more victims in the fall and winter. Hence the more frequent grasping of twigs and bark in these areas of the world. In tropical climates, on the other hand, trees are evergreen, which makes the parasite indifferent to whichohe part of the plant is caught by its prey.

MroThe zombie worms are extinct in Europe, although there is evidence that they once inhabited our continent as well. Nearly 50 millionoyears ago, the region was covered with evergreen forest. Over time, the climate began to cool and trees shed their leaves. It threatened the survival of the zombie fungus. Natural selection has made it more likely to continue growingoj had a species of parasite, ktory forced its victims to bite into the bark or twigs. DNA analysis of the parasite has revealed that a strain of the fungusoin whichora forces mrowki to bite twigs, not leaves, evolved independently several times.

Sourceobackground: Nature, photo. David P. Hughes, May-Britt Pontoppidan/ CC BY 2.5/ Wikimedia Commons