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Zombie ants have their minds controlled by a parasitic fungus

Mark your calendars. In three years time, when the world is falling apart in the same way that it has on AMC’s The Walking Dead, we’ll be able to look back to March 2011 as the moment when the looming zombie apocalypse was first hinted at. All because of ants and mushrooms.

Researchers in Brazil have discovered four distinct species of rain forest fungi which infect acts, take over their brains and move them to an ideal location for spores to grow and spread. The findings come from a study published in the science journal PLoS ONE. Originally believed to be just one species called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the researchers have found that there are actually four distinct species, all of which are capable of using mind control on their host ants.

“It is tempting to speculate that each species of fungus has its own ant species that it is best adapted to attack,” Penn State University entemologist David Hughes said (via National Geographic).

“This potentially means thousands of zombie fungi in tropical forests across the globe await discovery. We need to ramp up sampling—especially given the perilous state of the environment.” Brazil’s Atlantic rain forest is an environmental danger zone, one which is rapidly changing due to climate change and deforestation.

There is obviously no imminent zombie apocalypse (we all hope). This is nonetheless a fascinating bit of insight into our world and how works of fiction are informed by science fact. Walking dead doomsday scenarios are incredibly popular right now, and no small amount of that fiction establishes the undead as victims of a parasitic invader. Those parasites typically come from space, so it’s chilling and not a little bit cool to learn that there’s a real-world analogue in the rain forests of Brazil.