David Hughes wants to know exactly how this puppet master controls its puppets -- and his latest experiments suggest that it's even more ghoulish than it first appears. [...]
Hughes's team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant's entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. [...] Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant's muscles, literally controlling them "as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll." Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant's body -- the ones that give its brain control over its muscles -- start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over.
It effectively cuts the ant's limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver's seat, but the fungus has the wheel.
Today in Ophiocordyceps unilateralis news: