AUSTIN (KXAN) - Zombie fire ants may sound like a science-fiction movie, butthey are the real deal for University of Texas, Austin and TexasA&M researchers.
Their science experiments will help control the antpopulation.
Tiny parasites called Phorid flies attack fire ants, take overtheir bodies and turn them into walking zombies.
"The reason why they're called zombie ants is because they havea slightly different behavior once they're infected," said LawrenceGilbert, Director of Brackenridge field lab.
Fire ants are not the only things in nature that are affected bymind-controlling parasites. Snails and rats also get parasites thatgive them suicidal tendencies. The snails, specifically, grow largetentacles which attract birds. The bird rips off the snail'stentacles which cannot be withdrawn because of the sporocystestubes inside. Inside the bird's digestive tract the cercarieschange into the parasite's adult stage, which then reproducessexually and lays eggs. Those are distributed by the bird to infectfurther snails, which closes the generation cycle.
Below is a behind-the-scenes look at the lab of zombie ants:
Infected zombie ants do not get suicidal tendencies, but they domysteriously wander away from their colony. Their deaths are trulyout of a horror flick. The fly's larva begins to hatch inside theants, eat their brains and then the ants’ heads fall off.
The sci-fi sounding attack is actually part of nature.
“When we went to South America to study parasites of fireants we found so many different kinds,” said Gilbert.
Below is a National Geographic special on the parasite and showshow it affects the ants:
Researchers have released four types of Phorid flies acrossCentral Texas. They are hoping to release more. So far, theybelieve the results are promising.
Researchers do not think the parasites will eradicate fire antsfrom Central Texas for good, but they do think the Phorid flieswill help to keep fire ants under control.
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