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  • Arushi Srivastava

The Walking Dead Made Their Way into the Real World?

Amongst the great horrors of fantasy, zombies are probably the most terrifying ones to exist. They are depicted as shambling corpses covered in blood, that yearn for human brains. Their skin is rotten, with their hair and nails caked in dirt. Although lacking consciousness, they may react to their environment.

While their horrors are limited to movies, recent research has shown that their effects may be entering the real world. Deep in the midst of the Brazilian jungle, lives a species of tropical wood ants, known as the carpenter ants. They damage wood by hollowing it out for nesting and creating colonies for their eggs. In fiction, zombies are affected by a virus, while in the jungle, these carpenter ants are affected by a parasitic fungus. This zombie ant phenomenon is caused by the fungus ‘Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis’. If an ant happens to step on this fungal spore, it sticks to its body and slips a fungal cell inside.

This fungus then goes on to grow inside the insect's body, multiplying as the days pass. However, this change is not visible- as the ant continues to behave normally, going on with its everyday life. While all this is happening, the fungus keeps amplifying inside the body till it has captured nearly half of the ant’s mass. It infects the insect's body and then continues to fiddle with its muscles, altering its behaviour and movement patterns. Now that the body is a slave to its brain, the fungal cells send chemical signals which cause the ant to abandon its home and go to a nearby plant. The ant then climbs onto a leaf and locks its jaw on it- as it slowly dies. It secretes sticky thread-like structures from the ant’s body that sticks its corpse to the leaf. Now that Ophiocordyceps has finished consuming its host, its cells gather and push needle-like projections out of the wood ants that take the shape of a gigantic stroma on the back of its head.

The ant is now completely zombified. Ophiocordyceps has taken over. It has very conveniently cut the ant’s limbs from its brain and has inserted itself in place. It now releases chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. As cleverly stated by author Ed Yong, “Its brain is still in the driver's seat, but the fungus has taken the wheel!”.

Naturalists published their first findings of the Ophiocordyceps well over a century ago. Despite that, it was only in recent years that researchers started studying the process of how these fungi go about zombifying ants. It is a highly intricate procedure that takes more or less 10 agonising days. The professors are yet to analyse many more details about them including the chemicals released and their causes. Nevertheless, this entire phenomenon is truly mind-blowing as it reveals to us yet another brain-twister of this mysterious world!


  1. Zimmer, Carl. “After This Fungus Turns Ants Into Zombies, Their Bodies Explode” 24 Oct, 2019. Web. 27 Oct, 2022. <>

  2. Young, Ed. “How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds” 14 Nov, 2017. Web. 27 Oct, 2022.

  1. Lestari P. Puput. “It Turns Out That Zombies Exist In The Real World, This Is The Scientific Explanation” 13 Feb, 2022. Web. 25 Oct, 2022.

  1. Cohut, Maria. “What are the real zombies?” medicalnewstoday. 31 Oct, 2019. Web. 25 Oct, 2022. <>

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