A Parasitic Fungus That Turns Ants Into ‘Zombies’

The most accurate scientific explanation of a zombie apocalypse can be found in the video game The Last of Us– a masterpiece because it has the most realistic explanation for zombies yet, it uses zombies that actually exist. In The Last of Us, 60 percent of humanity is wiped out by the genus of parasitic fungus Cordyceps.

Forget Dawn of the Dead and  The Walking Dead, the pop culture phenomenon fantasy, only the game The Last Of Us is real in terms of zombie viruses. The Cordyceps parasite described in the game actually exists in the real world!. Don’t look to science fiction. Instead, go to a tropical country like Brazil, Thailand, and Africa to see the sinister example of mind control.

It is a parasitic fungus that mainly affects insects and other arthropods. There are about 400 different species of cordycepsbut one in particular, known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, turns ants and other insects into zombies. They have been making real zombies for millions of years. Scientists have discovered 200 species of O. unilateralis that can infect a variety of species from spiders to caterpillars.

The fungus infects foraging ants through spores and slowly takes over its brain. When the fungus first enters its host, it exists as single cells that float around the ant’s bloodstream, budding off new copies of themselves. But at some point, these single cells start working together. They connect to each other by building short tubes, of some kind that has only ever been seen before in fungi that infect plants. Hooked up in this way, they can communicate and exchange nutrients.

Infected ants become compelled to leave their nest in search of a humid microclimate that is ideal for the growth of the cordyceps fungus. When an infected ant finds the perfect spot, it sinks its jaws into a leaf vein and waits for death.

Meanwhile, the fungus eats away at the ant’s innards until it is ready for the final stage. Several days after the ant’s death, the fungus grows out of the ant’s body and readies itself to spread more spores and infect more ants.

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