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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Phorid fly makes zombie ants

The tiny phorid fly starts the process of zombification by dive bombing the fire ant and laying its seed in its body. Soon the larva makes its way to the ant’s brain and eats it.

At that point, the brainless ant spends about two weeks wandering aimlessly as the larva gets ready to hatch. After it does, the newborn fly pops the zombie ant’s head off and emerges.

From Wikipedia:
"Phorid flies also represent a new and hopeful means by which to control fire ant populations in the southern United States, where fire ants were accidentally introduced in the 1930s. The genus Pseudacteon, or ant-decapitating fly, of which 110 species have been documented, is a parasitoid of the ant in South America. Members of Pseudacteon reproduce by laying eggs in the thorax of the ant. The first instar larvae migrate to the head.

The larvae develop by feeding on the hemolymph, muscle tissue, and nervous tissue in the head. Eventually, the larvae completely devour the ant's brain, causing it to do nothing but wander aimlessly for approximately two weeks.[7] After about two[8] to four[7] weeks, they cause the ant's head to fall off by releasing an enzyme that dissolves the membrane attaching the ant's head to its body.

The fly pupates in the detached head capsule, requiring a further two weeks before emerging. Various species of Phoridae have been introduced throughout the U. S. Southeast, starting with Travis, Brazos, and Dallas counties in Texas, as well as Mobile, Alabama, where the ants first entered North America."