A intelligent parasite can flip ants into zombies (Picture: Getty)A parasite that takes management of ants’ brains and turns them into zombies is much more dastardly than beforehand thought.
The widespread liver fluke is famend for its potential to hijack the thoughts and physique of ants. It forces them to crawl up and hang around on tall blades of grass, ready to be eaten by grazing animals resembling cattle and deer – the fluke’s subsequent unsuspecting host.
However, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have found that the parasite’s potential to regulate the ant is much more crafty than beforehand thought after discovering the parasite can ‘swap off’ zombie mode when it will get too sizzling, permitting the ants to crawl again down.
Essentially, the ants ‘get up’ excessive above the bottom to seek out themselves hanging on by their jaw.
‘Getting the ants excessive up within the grass for when cattle or deer graze through the cool morning and night hours, after which down once more to keep away from the solar’s lethal rays, is sort of good,’ mentioned lead writer Associate Professor Brian Lund Fredensborg. ‘Our discovery reveals a parasite that’s extra subtle than we initially believed it to be.’
The discovery itself required fairly a little bit of crafty too, with the researchers tagging a number of hundred contaminated ants within the Bidstrup Forests close to RoSki Goggles (On Sale Here)lde, Denmark.
‘It took some dexterity to attach colours and numbers onto the rear segments of the ants, however it allowed us to maintain observe of them for longer durations of time,’ mentioned Associate Professor Fredensborg, who carried out the analysis longside co-author Simone Nordstrand Gasque.
A ‘zombie’ ant marked for examine (Picture: Brian Lund Fredensborg and Simone Gasque)Together they noticed the contaminated ants’ habits in relation to mild, humidity, time of day and temperature.
It grew to become clear that temperature had an impact on how the parasites directed the ants. When the temperature was low, the ants had been extra more likely to be hooked up to the highest of a blade of grass. When the temperature rose, the ants relinquished the grass and crawled again down.
‘We discovered a transparent correlation between temperature and ant habits. We joked about having discovered the ants’ zombie swap,’ mentioned Associate Professor Fredensborg.
A zombie ant clamped on to a blade of grass after being taken over by a parasite (Picture: Brian Lund Fredensborg and Simone Gasque)The lifecycle of the liver fluke is a rollercoaster. To infect the ant, a number of hundred parasites invade the ant’s physique – however just one makes its option to the mind. From right here it controls the ant, whereas the remainder of the liver flukes disguise themselves within the ant’s stomach.
Once eaten by a grazer nonetheless, the parasite that took management of the mind is killed by the animal’s abdomen acid. The bigger flock within the ant’s stomach is protected by a capsule that solely dissolves as soon as within the host’s gut, enabling them emigrate in the direction of the liver and lay eggs.
These eggs are excreted by the grazer, the place they wait patiently for a snail to come back alongside and eat the faeces. The eggs turn into larval flukes that reproduce asexually, multiplying into a number of thousand parasites.
Now they need to escape the snail. The apparent method to do this, apparently, is by inflicting the snail to cough, which expels them in a ball of mucus – a ball of mucus that’s surprisingly tasty to ants, which come alongside and eat them.
The white oval buildings seen listed here are the parasite capsules (Picture: Brian Lund Fredensborg)‘Historically, parasites have by no means actually been targeted on that a lot, regardless of there being scientific sources which say that parasitism is essentially the most widespread life type,’ mentioned Associate Professor Fredensborg. ‘This is partly as a consequence of the truth that parasites are fairly tough to check.
‘Nevertheless, the hidden world of parasites types a major a part of biodiversity, and by altering the host’s habits, they may help decide who eats what in nature. That’s why they’re essential for us to know.’
The liver fluke is widespread in temperate areas worldwide, together with within the UK. Associate Professor Fredensborg and his colleagues are persevering with to research the parasite to find out precisely the way it takes over an ant’s mind.
‘We now know that temperature determines when the parasite will take over an ant’s mind,’ he mentioned. ‘But we nonetheless want to determine which cocktail of chemical substances the parasite makes use of to show ants into zombies.’
The examine is revealed within the journal Behavioral Ecology.
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