By Jack Williams
This haunting image showcases the impact of a fungus that is known to turn ants into what some have described as ZOMBIES.
The crystal-clear photograph shows the fungus growing out of the back of the deceased ant, the insect’s eyes glazed over and its legs tightly gripped around a piece of Spanish moss.
The Ophiocordyceps camponoti-floridani is known to turn ants into zombies on somewhat of a suicide mission, as once the insect is infected, the fungus attacks the insect’s central nervous system and gradually manipulates the behaviour of the ant.
This particular ant was photographed last month at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park, Florida, USA, by PhD candidate Danny Goodding.
Once the fungus is manipulating the central nervous system of the ant – in this case a Florida carpenter ant – it eventually forces the ant out of the nest and up into vegetation.
The ant then latches onto the vegetation with its mandibles, as it did in Danny’s photograph, and after the fungus has forced the ant to lock on with this death-grip, it continues growing and eventually consumes the ant as a carbon food source.
After a while the fungus grows a fruiting body out of the ant’s head and thorax that bursts and releases spores to infect more ants.
The entire process, Danny, 29, said, can take between four and 10 days.
He added: “My goal with my nature photography in general is to portray interesting natural history in-situ, but with a bit of artistic style that pulls people in and hopefully gets them interested in things they either may never notice on their own or would never want to see in real life.
“In this case, the fungal parasite is a bit morbid in the way that it turns the ant into a zombie, so I set the shot up to have a dark background with a bit of deep natural color, giving a kind of ominous feel to it.
“The details of the shot, particularly the eye, bring you closer to the ant and almost make you feel bad for the ant and wonder what that must have been like for the little insect.
“I think most of the reactions have been a mix of curiosity, wonder, and a bit of fear.
“I received one particular comment that really stuck with me.
“They said that they like that I found a way to portray something morbid and a bit gross as beautiful and intriguing.”