A fungus that infects the brains of ants, effectively turning them into zombies, is actually vulnerable to a parasite itself, according to new research.
The zombie-ant fungus, or Ophiocordyceps, acts like a puppeteer. Once in the brain, it will steer an ant to its death -- usually manipulating it to latch onto a leaf, where the fungus spores will erupt out of its lifeless head and spread to new hosts.
Scientists already knew ants try to defend their colonies from the brain-eating spores by efficiently grooming each other. But a new study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE found they also have some help from a counter-fungus.
"In a case where biology is stranger than fiction, the parasite of the zombie-ant fungus is itself a fungus -- a hyperparasitic fungus that specializes in attacking the parasite that turns the ants into zombies," said lead researcher David Hughes of Penn State.