Researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark have revealed new, surprising findings about the lancet liver fluke parasite’s ability to manipulate ants into “zombies.” This parasite’s devious tactics go beyond simply taking control of their hosts’ brains.
More Cunning than Expected
The lancet liver fluke parasite has long been known for its eerie influence over ants, compelling them to attach themselves to grass blades, and making them more susceptible to grazing animals like cattle and deer. However, recent research indicates that this parasite’s cunning strategies run even deeper than previously thought.
Tricking Ants to Avoid Sun’s Rays
In a study published in the journal Behavioural Ecology, scientists discovered that the liver fluke parasite can compel infected ants to avoid the sun’s potentially lethal rays when the temperature rises. This clever adaptation allows the ants to survive longer, increasing the chances of spreading the parasite to other potential hosts.
Among the astonishing observations made during the study:
- Ants Climbing Down in the Heat: The liver fluke can force ants to crawl back down the blade of grass during hot weather to escape the sun’s heat.
- Temperature-Dependent Behaviour: Temperature significantly influences behaviour, with ants more likely to remain attached to grass when it’s cooler and descending in hotter conditions.
- Sophisticated Manipulation: Dr. Brian Lund Fredensborg, a study co-author, describes the parasite’s actions as remarkably sophisticated, emphasising that they’re more advanced than previously believed.
Understanding the “Zombie Switch”
The study, conducted in the Bidstrup Forests near Roskilde, Denmark, involved tagging hundreds of infected ants to monitor their behaviour over extended periods. Researchers identified a clear correlation between temperature and ant behaviour, humorously referring to it as the “ants’ zombie switch.”
Unravelling the Chemical Puzzle
While this research provides crucial insights into the parasite’s behaviour, questions remain regarding the specific chemical substances employed by the parasite to control ants. Dr. Fredensborg concludes that further investigation is needed to decipher this intriguing puzzle.
This study sheds light on the remarkable complexity of nature’s interactions, revealing the astonishing abilities of parasites like the lancet liver fluke.