In a recently published study in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists looked inside the head of ant overtaken by gruesome, mind-controlling parasites.
The parasite, the lancet liver fluke, is a flatworm that jumps between different animal species to complete its life cycle. The parasite begins in egg form, attached to the dung of grazing animals like cattle or deer. Snails will eat the infected feces, and then dispel the worm larvae as little slime balls that ants then gobble up.
Inside the ant, the worms turn deadly. Ants usually get multiple worms at once, and most stay inside the ant’s abdomen. One worm, however, will takeover an ant’s brain, commanding it to essential seek death. At dusk, ants usually return to their nests. But the infected zombie ants climb blades of grass and other vegetation, holding on to a plant by its jaws until it gets eaten. Once it gets eaten, the parasite can then lay eggs in its new mammal host, and begin its dark cycle anew.
Though biologists have known about this morbid relationship for years, micro-CT scanning has allowed scientists to visualize the relationship clearer than ever before. Micro-CT scans combines microscopy and X-ray imaging to illustrate the inner world of tiny objects in intense detail.
The new scans show that as many as three worms could be fighting for control inside one ant’s brain, though only one will take over the host. The parasites latch on the ant’s brain tissue, and target the region associated with motion and mandible control. Thank you, imaging technology, and let’s hope the parasites won’t evolve to take over human minds soon.