Saturday, March 12, 2011
Four new species of the weirdest life-form on Earth (and that is saying something, as this blog regularly visits truly weird ones) have been described from the rain forests of Brazil. The zombie fungus infects an ant and forces it to do the fungus' bidding, in effect. The fungus is not just a parasite: it takes over, and the ant leaves its nest to climb up on a plant and lock in place while the fungus grows a stalk from the ant's head that releases more spores to infect more ants. (A human-controlling version was featured in TV's The X-Files.) Scientists don't know how it works, and the degree of symbiosis involved is astonishing. How did the fungus ever develop a life cycle based on controlling another species chemically?