Behavioral mechanisms and morphological symptoms of zombie ants dying from fungal infection

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David P Hughes, Sandra B Andersen, Nigel L Hywel-Jones, Winanda Himaman, Johan Billen, Jacobus J Boomsma

Parasites that manipulate host behavior can provide prominent examples of extended phenotypes: parasite genomes controlling host behavior. Here we focus on one of the most dramatic examples of behavioral manipulation, the death grip of ants infected by Ophiocordyceps fungi. We studied the interaction between O. unilateralis s.l. and its host ant Camponotus leonardi in a Thai rainforest, where infected ants descend from their canopy nests down to understory vegetation to bite into abaxial leaf veins before dying. Host mortality is concentrated in patches (graveyards) where ants die on sapling leaves ca. 25 cm above the soil surface where conditions for parasite development are optimal. Here we address whether the sequence of ant behaviors leading to the final death grip can also be interpreted as parasite adaptations and describe some of the morphological changes inside the heads of infected workers that mediate the expression of the death grip phenotype.
Original languageEnglish
JournalB M C Ecology
Volume11
Issue number13
Pages (from-to)13
Number of pages10
ISSN1472-6785
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

    Research areas

  • Animals, Ants, Behavior, Animal, Host-Parasite Interactions, Hypocreales, Mycoses, Thailand

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