Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zombie Fire Ants

Combining two of the things we love most (Animal Uprisings and Zombies), UT Austin and Texas A&M Researchers have begun reporting on the next great animal threat ... zombie-fication ...

It sounds like something out of science fiction: zombie fire ants. But it's all too real.

Fire ants wander aimlessly away from the mound.

Eventually their heads fall off, and they die.

The strange part is that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service say making "zombies" out of fire ants is a good thing.

"It's a tool — they're not going to completely wipe out the fire ant, but it's a way to control their population," said Scott Ludwig , an integrated pest management specialist with the AgriLife Extension Service in Overton , in East Texas .

The tool is the tiny phorid fly, native to a region of South America where the fire ants in Texas originated. Researchers have learned that there are as many as 23 phorid species along with pathogens that attack fire ants to keep their population and movements under control.

So far, four phorid species have been introduced in Texas .

The flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombie-like behavior.

"At some point, the ant gets up and starts wandering," said Rob Plowes, a research associate at UT.

The maggot eventually migrates into the ant's head, but Plowes said he "wouldn't use the word 'control' to describe what is happening. There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly. This wandering stage goes on for about two weeks."

About a month after the egg is laid, the ant's head falls off and the fly emerges ready to attack any foraging ants away from the mound and lay eggs.

Plowes said fire ants are "very aware" of these tiny flies, and it only takes a few to cause the ants to modify their behavior.

"Just one or two flies can control movement or above-ground activity," Plowes said. "It's kind of like a medieval activity where you're putting a castle under siege."

... So there's no proof that it works on humans ... yet ... so what. Clearly, this is an indication of a huge move to develop ways to make the impending doom of the human race all the more gory. Eventually, the phorid flies will perfect the zombiefication technique, utilize it on humans, and we'll not only have herds of bears, monkeys, and crocodiles waiting to pounce, but we'll also have zombie humans to deal with ... freakin sweet.

Further details on the step by step process of ant zombification can be found here:

Ant Zombies from the Planet Mars ...

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