Entomologist Sanford D. Porter is to thank for one of the most gory and fascinating discoveries in nature. He noticed that the fire ant population in South America was only half as big as the North American population. Porter soon discovered the culprit: Ant-decapitating flies of the genus Pseudacteon.
The really crazy thing is that the decapitation takes around a month. It starts when a female fly, with fertilized eggs, hovers a few millimeters from its ant target. Then, when they’re in position, they swoop in and inject the ant with its egg. The fly has a hypodermic needle-like ovipositor that deposits the egg in the ant’s membrane in its body.
Eventually the egg hatches and the maggot makes its way to the ant’s brain, where it lives off bodily fluids for a few weeks, getting bigger all the time. Eventually, the maggot has full control over the ant’s mind
Usually, when ants are invaded by parasites, the colony notices its unusual behavior and the ant is exiled. But somehow, ants invaded by this maggot act pretty normal, likely because the maggot needs the ant to keep getting plenty of food. Once the larva is ready to emerge, it sends the ant to an area of high humidity, so it can develop properly once it’s out of the ant.
The larva releases a chemical that dissolves the ant’s membrane, and its head eventually falls off. The larva eats away at the tissue and membrane until the head is hollow, and begins to pupate inside. A few weeks later, a new ant-injecting fly emerges and the process begins again.
Also, it was recently discovered that ants aren’t the fly’s only victims. Some Pseudacteon flies enact the same process with bees. Who knows if the flies will decide to zombify other creatures in the futures?
Also, it was recently discovered that ants aren’t the fly’s only victims. Some Pseudacteon flies enact the same process with bees. Who knows if the flies will decide to zombify other creatures in the future?