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'Zombie ant' brains left intact by fungal parasite (phys.org)
184 points by dnetesn 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

>"Normally in animals, behavior is controlled by the brain sending signals to the muscles, but our results suggest that the parasite is controlling host behavior peripherally," Hughes said. "Almost like a puppeteer pulls the strings to make a marionette move, the fungus controls the ant's muscles to manipulate the host's legs and mandibles."

Probably the most "And I Must Scream" moment in mother nature. Imagine a human gets infected by a parasite that controls their body but leaves their brain intact to observe what their body is doing (and probably drugged to hell as the article implies).

I had another thought which might be even more terrifying. I couldn't find anything suggesting the fungus cuts off or disrupts the ant's actual nerve endings, and from video you can see towards the end that the ant moves in an unnatural, jerky way, not like a normal ant. This could be just because a fungus is bad at acting like an ant, but what if it's also because the ant is actively trying to fight it?!

I don't think this is especially likely, the fungus requires use of the ant's nervous system and sensory processing to figure out where a high up place is, so it definitely needs to have some significant control over the ant's brain, so it could suppress motor neuron function in the central nervous system. But still a very terrifying idea, to have some control over your muscles but the fungus is just overpowering you!

One conceptual reality to consider is that the ants on the surface of any hill are not quite as sentient as the queen. The survival of a queen that produces viable progeny is paramount to the survival of the species and, at a more granular level, the bloodline of the individual colony.

The queen is dependent on the drones being as obedient as your fingers and tongue might be to your brain, with your brain being the queen organ, for your hundred(s of) pound(s of) tissue. We know that the surface ants support the colony, which supports the queen, and overall, the biomass of the ant colony is less than any single mammal, and we know that any signaling is provoked by scent, based on attack behaviors at a minimum.

Meaning that reaction to scent wafts through colonies quickly, engaging behavior as quickly as it is noticed. Ants seem to drop everything, and move, unanimously, when a signal is given. The signals must be pretty complex, with pointers hooked into fixed physical actions on some level. The ants probably don't think very much about what they should do next, as much as constantly listen or smell for a prevailing vote on what to do. Attack, forage, assemble into a formation, wait for further instructions, and so on.

In ant studies, an ant colony is segmented into chambers, each having odors, the most conspicuous being the colony's waste dump, so you have to figure that the colony survives, and expects the surface soldiers to go permanently missing once in a while, when scent signaling is disrupted.

These fungal organisms probably interact with a degree of equilibrium, when exposed to healthy ant colonies. Usually a parasitic relationship with a host is balanced to not completely destroy the host population, according to an almost intuitive self-preservation instinct among parasites. So the fungus probably only disrupts soldiers at the periphery of the colony, without destroying the core of the hill.

You can get a sense of this, based on the fact that the affected ants are driven away from the hill, toward environments more opportunistic to the fungus. If a version of the fungus were to grow opportunistically within the colony, it might invade and drive the ants to extinction, which might turn out to be, in effect, suicidal for the fungus too, and not just the ant.

The colony is really the organism, and the soldiers serve it, abiding by prevailing odors, likely without very much free will. Or at least as much free will as your arm has, to reflexively recoil from a burn, or lash out at some unassessed threat when reacting in fear.

This fungus probably is basically "numbing" the arm, but the wild part of seeing your arm suddenly behave with a mind of its own, would be an observation from the perspective of the queen, and is probably more or less like seeing a junkie or crackhead stumble around like a zombie, as far as the colony-as-organism is concerned.

So, if the ant is "fighting" the "will" of the fungus, it's probably more likely that the ant is receiving strong scent signals compelling it to act a certain way, and the sauce that the fungus is producing as an override to the biological signals in the ant's circulatory system (remembering that insect circulatory systems are primitive, and probably easily hackable fluid systems) might be weak, or the infectious load might be light, resulting in a noisy, conflicted signal at the neurological level. Maybe like a junkie, not completely ruined by dope.

tl;dr soldier ants follow their nose without a whole lot of agency, because they are born to serve the colony, selflessly. Thus they likely are unconcerned by a "loss of self," and perhaps might be more emotionally invested in failing the colony, if soldier ants have emotions.

> One conceptual reality to consider is that the ants on the surface of any hill are not quite as sentient as the queen...

The term "queen" is a misnomer. She is the ovulation organ of the hive, nothing more. Yes, she has many solicitous "attendants" but then again I too am more attentive to my own generative organs than I am to my other ones.

In fact she has less will than any of the mobile ants and bees. Like the Chinese emperor (until Pu Yi) she is completely manipulated by her attendants.

One, then, is left to wonder where the seat of organizational sentience really resides, if it resides in any of the independent organisms at all.

Ants surely seem sentient, even if still lower-order animals. Is it just an emergent detail of aggregate reflexive behavior across all members? How (and why) would soldiers know to build a bridge with their bodies, to cross a water barrier, seemingly from birth?

Maybe the level of recognition and internal modelling, on a per-organism basis is a clue to self awareness and emotional involvement in individual perception and experience. With all ants, maybe this quality is low, and mostly instinctual, embedded in gene expression.

Why can't it be an emergent phenomenon? "You" are just a huge collection of independent organisms, a large subset of which share the same genetic material. But given the degree to which your various symbiotes and parasites (in your gut, in the biofilms in your sinuses, etc) excrete hormones, and the huge quantities of neurotransmitters emitted and received wholly inside your gut, it seems a Victorian concept like "seat of organizational sentience" is rather obsolete.

As for sentience itself...it's pretty clear (even from timing data alone) that we end up confabulating most of what we consider perception of reality, so perhaps consciousness and sentience are just convenient mechanisms to characterize the order of events?

  it seems a Victorian concept like "seat of 
  organizational sentience" is rather obsolete.
Ha! So you’re telling me that you exist in more than one place simultaneously? (!!!)

Last time I checked, here I am. One person, one voice, one field of vision. If I were to use my fingers to point to where I, myself, am, then it’d be somewhere between my ears and my eyes.

But I suppose that person is somehow... quaint?

Yes, I believe you believe in such an "I", as do I and I assume everyone on the planet. But I also (to quote Dennett) say things like "the thermostat wants to keep the temperature between 20 and 22 degrees". It has no wont or desire but it's a handy fiction.

You only point to your head due to modern science; Aristotle thought the brain was for cooling the blood as the ancient Greeks thought the soul was in the liver, hence Prometheus' punishment (although ψυχή was literally "breath" -- cf "atman"). Plenty of cultures thought it in the heart, as do we talk of the heart or gut or generative organs making decisions -- certainly we feel the tough decisions there.

Could it be those with extensive amputations of gut and an articial heart could be "less human" in a broader sense than just mass?

But you seem awfully sure there is consciousness. Perhaps there is no such thing and you only think there is? It seems like a handy mechanism for your genes to use to propagate themselves.

The homunculus model, while popular, isn't particularly insightful and is, recursively, useless.

We have a hell of a lot of evidence that learning, planning, processing sensory input, sending out signals to move muscles etc. are all happening in the brain.

> Could it be those with extensive amputations of gut and an articial heart could be "less human" in a broader sense than just mass?

If that's the case, it's pretty subtle. People with an artificial art don't act much differently than those with a normal heart; compare that with people who've had frontal lobotomies.

> But you seem awfully sure there is consciousness. Perhaps there is no such thing and you only think there is?

This line of argument generally rapidly devolves into semantics and quibbling over definitions. Giving a formal definition of consciousness is difficult. You either end up with a definition like "that phenomena where people think and consider themselves a single entity", in which case it's trivially true that human beings have consciousness; or you define it as something vague and metaphysical like "having a soul" in which case it's unprovable whether humans are conscious or not.

I like this passage from the Macmillan Dictionary of Psychology:

"Consciousness - The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means ... Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it has evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it."

No way, dude. There's clinical evidence that such a location in/on the human body represents the true effective residence of human sentience, since snipers target precisely that location to take out their targets, before they have a chance to (even reflexively) react to their wounds.

It doesn’t mean a little person reclines in a hammock there, but I’d wager that there’s a resonant, sensation-event-sensitive waveform, that has a primary focal node looping through a region very close to the pituitary gland in normal, living human beings (with similar analogs in all other mammals, and also many other vertebrates), also hinted at by the pituitary’s role in endocrine governance.

But furthermore, you deny your own agency, if you refute me. I suppose maybe you are simply a bot on the internet, then. In which case, I'm deeply disturbed to find entities on the internet telling me I'm not sentient. Maybe having humans inform me of the same poorly rationalized fallacy is worse?

> There's clinical evidence that such a location in/on the human body represents the true effective residence of human sentience, since snipers target precisely that location to take out their targets, before they have a chance to (even reflexively) react to their wounds.

It tells you no such thing. In a distributed system if you take out the main ethernet switch (interconnect) you can bring the whole system to a halt, but that doesn't mean the computation happens there.

Now, no kidding: there's a massively parallel (80 G neurons x 10^ fanout) machine with a ~ 100 Hz clock inside your skull, but there's a lot of computation going on elsewhere. Look at what I said about all the neurotransmitters in your gut, not to mention the rest of your reticulated nervous system. And people do plenty of things all the time (e.g. hit a baseball) that require a response and feedback faster than the nervous system can transmit from the big bag o' neurons to the wrist.

I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm saying there's far, far from enough evidence in contemporary neuroscience to support the level of confidence you exhibit in your theory of mind.

I dunno. We’ve seen lots of (well maybe a number of famous) cases where an entire hemisphere gets taken out by stroke or trauma, and the sense of self manages to recover.

The brain is extremely sensitive to status across the rest of the body, but based on amputations and circumstances involving life support, viral pathology and hypoxia, there’s strong evidence that time keeping and concept of self sit just above the floor of the brain pan, near the optic nerve’s main cross-over, between the ears. (give or take and inch or two)

Your comment echoes my own experience debating the idea of agency / sentience / existence.

No one who makes these types of arguments can justify why they continue to defend their side of the argument if nothing they do matters.

If you truly believe that you do not exist, explain it to me in a way that does not assume your existence. Most of these arguments start with the two words that the most famous argument for existence does, "I think therefore I am".

Which cell of your brain is the seat of sentience? I know little about ants and maybe that analogy sucks, but it seems like it could easily not be anything more specific than the colony as a whole.

Well, we have clues that it exists above the chemical layer, and above the cellular layer, since any individual person is capable of sensory processing at a fidelity measurable to auditory sample rates beyond tens of thousands of cycles per second, and visual frame rates above 30 before we notice flicker. That tells you that a continuous signal is captured and integrated across the organ (the brain) in real time.

> That tells you that a continuous signal is captured and integrated across the organ (the brain) in real time.

Not only does it not tell you any such thing but there is pretty good evidence that that is not what's happening. Look at the amount of data collected via the fovea during a single saccade and tell me one collects "frame" data in any way comparable to one's conception of what is happening in front of your body at that time.

You misinterpret my reference to "frame rate." And you're cherry picking.

In the sense that flicker is detectable, when we view a movie in a dark room, we know there are frames in a film reel, if the shutter speed of the projector mechanism operates below a certain frame rate, as an artifact of the media. I'm not claiming that any sort of digital recording occurs, only that the stream of sensory stimulation has a degree of fidelity.

That stream of stimulation affecting the chemical sensitivity of our eyes produces a continuous signal, and go ahead and try to tell anyone that a human brain cannot resolve the visual signal carried by the optic nerve. No one will argue with you but only because it's simply not a conversation worth having.

If there's no sequential bottleneck in information processing, where one piece of information is made available to almost all subsystems, then there's probably no consciousness. If it is the case, we cannot say that the system as a whole is aware of something, because there's no common 'something' available to all subsystems.

Returning to ants, the anthill as a whole could probably be aware of a coarse assessment of its own wellbeing without any details.

Which is to conclude, either all ants are sentient, or no ants are sentient (but a variety of degrees of sentience is not expected), and the emergent behavior of a colony is its own phenomenon.

> The colony is really the organism, and the soldiers serve it, abiding by prevailing odors, likely without very much free will. Or at least as much free will as your arm has, to reflexively recoil from a burn, or lash out at some unassessed threat when reacting in fear.

Yep. And now go up a level. What are _you_ in the organism that is humanity? That concept is worth a lifetime of thought as you go about your job, consuming resources and processing information that is given to you to process.

But the “organism of humanity” lacks biological drivers and hallmarks for differentiation of classes within the same species within a reproductive familial chain of ancestry.

All class divisions and duties are contrived, and artificially forced by what amounts to oral tradition and other communicative habitual norms like handwriting, long after invention of the wheel and mastery of fire by prehistoric humans. It is artifice, that can be wiped away if we fail to learn the craft of language by adolescence.

Liken this to hunting patterns among cetaceans, which we’ve only recently noticed with intensive study. Few animals are capable of language, but that emergent detail alone, remains an extremely ephemeral quality of social organization, capable of being destroyed by large-scale disagreements resulting in what we call war. Refugees can be reduced to orphanage and stone age civilization in a conflict severe enough.

Ants and other eusocial insects are not quite so vulnerable to having their classified reproductive divisions destroyed in less than a generation, simply because a small number of them have rationalized and chosen to dispose of a way of life. Forces of nature and other outside actors would have to opportunistically disrupt their biological qualities which seem baked in once hatched.

"the fungus requires use of the ant's nervous system and sensory processing to figure out where a high up place is" How do you know this?

I’d suspect, and offer, with zero proof, that the fungus has hooked into temperature regulation channels, and ants tend to seek warm/bright, high and dry areas in cold rain, to camp out until they can dead-reckon their way back home if they can’t smell their colony.

Maybe the ant is simply reacting to sensations of cold temperature, and maybe it goes blind, setting off reactions to wander away from the ground, search for bright areas to warm up when in dark unfamiliar tunnels.

Maybe not that drastic but check this out:

> "Crazy cat-lady syndrome" is a term coined by news organizations to describe scientific findings that link the parasite Toxoplasma gondii to several mental disorders and behavioral problems.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

I was always a little disappointed I had so many friends get into Harry Potter when I was younger. Animorphs explores this idea in depth, especially for a kids novel. So in depth that you eventually feel that the parasite controlling other beings can be justified in their war. It is still a kids series so many of the books are filler, but the beginnings, chronicles, and ending are very deep even when looked at through that lens. The books are easy reads as an adult and the entire 60 book series can easily be read in a month.

>It is still a kids series

Man, after having gone back and re-read them as an adult, it's only barely a kids series. Animorphs went hard in the paint with the horrors of war angle.

Any good media "for children" can be enjoyed by adults. I never read Animorphs, or Harry Potter, for that matter, but there are good analogs on TV: Adventure Time and Gravity Falls, both of which are cartoons for children, but have depth and sophistication that adults can appreciate while still being accessible to children.

Another good example is Terry Pratchett's kid-oriented books (e.g., the Tiffany Aching Discworld books, the Johnny books and the Bromeliad trilogy). He never wrote down to children. These books weren't really much different from his other books for an adult audience, although the plots were simpler, tended to focus more on children characters, and the morality was less ambiguous (as it can be in real life)). But as a big fan of Pratchett, I enjoyed these "children's" books no less than the others.

> I never read Animorphs

There is a scene in one of the books where the narrator finds a sliver of flesh still stuck in his teeth from when he was fighting in tiger form, and that isn't a particularly gruesome scene in comparison to the rest of the books, just to be clear. Harry Potter's later installments come close but Gravity Falls and Adventure Time aren't even in the same league. I do absolutely agree with your basic point though - I also greatly enjoy all of these series watching or reading them with younger family members.

Animorphs affected me in a major way while growing up. Morphing into other animals involved getting into their minds and feeling their feelings. Sensations and emotions and instinct and reflexes . . . Spent some nice afternoons on distant planets as different beings :D

The Last Of Us explored this concept using a fictional version of this same fungus that infected humans instead

One small detail is if you listen to some of the infected when they aren't attacking it sounds like they might be in agony, like they still have some sort of brain.

There's also the Girl with All the Gifts. Was made into a movie last year.

> Imagine a human gets infected

Relevant SMBC comic: http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/fungus

That was the old idea of how these parasites worked.

>Probably the most "And I Must Scream" moment in mother nature.

Another contender for that crown is the tongue eating louse or Cymothoa exigua. It attaches itself to a fish's tongue. Then, the true horro begins. 'The parasite severs the blood vessels in the fish's tongue, causing the tongue to fall off. It then attaches itself to the stub of what was once its tongue and becomes the fish's new tongue'

I'd rather be a fungal thrall than have to a parasite take over as my tongue


Ask an addict.

Even simpler, put some chocolate biscuits on a plate in view of where you sit and attempt to avoid the action of indulging.

I tried but somehow the biscuits kept vanishing. I can't explain it.

That’s not what’s going on here.

Wouldn't that require the fungus to have a nervous system of its own?

> Although the host brain isn't invaded by fungal cells, previous work has shown that the brain may be chemically altered by the parasite, Hughes noted.

I think it's much more probably that ants have some high-level chemical signals that the fungus uses. One to climb, and another to bite maybe?

Ants already use pheromones to communicate.

That seems more probable and way more intuitive, but I don't really understand how the mechanics of that mesh with what the researchers are saying happens to the ant muscles.

Yeah it's really weird. Animal time scales (needed to control muscles) seem much faster (order of ms) than fungus time scales (order of seconds for a very fast one)

It seems to me it requires the whole fungus to assembly itself in some kind of "fungus brain". Really fascinating stuff

No more than the genes that lead animals to survive because they have an instinct to hide from predators.

These evolutionary processes do not imply any kind of intent. They exist because they work. The things that don't work eventually disappear.

The article reads like it either does or it somehow manipulates the nervous system of the host without actually infecting the brain.

It seems like it must put the host brain to sleep to avoid conflicting signals and to prevent errant signals (like "release the panic pheromone" from getting out). The ants sleepwalk to their doom. It seems like the fungus is still depending on the host brain to keep all of the life functions going, so it can't cut it off entirely from the body.

That seems logical. To control such a complex system as an ant's brain, the fungus itself must be no less complex. So controlling ant's muscles directly is the shortest (in evolutionary sense) path to its goal.

I don't think partial control of a complex system requires a system of equal complexity. Even human behavior can be influenced in the brain by something simple as a drug or virus.

Specific directives (to find a suitable place to anchor itself) require awareness of the terrain and object-recognition. Either a) the fungus has stumbled upon the signals to accomplish this singular feat or b) the fungus can read the ant's perceptions and can navigate. Finding the signal seems more likely because it is much less complex an achievement.

Or the fungus "stumbled" across an effect on the ants' nervous system that was beneficial to it, so it thrived.

Emergent properties don't require sophistication. They arise despite the lack of sophistication or the ability for specific intent. That's the definition of "emergent".

Yes, like what if there is an existing chemical signal for "climb up." the fungus might emit that signal and then just ride along, without any understanding of how that happens. Because it works, those fungus do better than ones that gave a different signal. After a while, it gives the "bite" signal and hopefully, the ant has already climbed up. Voila, the ant has served the fungus. So maybe some pretty simple steps result in an effect that appears carefully planned?

> Imagine a human gets infected by a parasite that controls their body but leaves their brain intact to observe what their body is doing

Sounds very Stargate SG-1!


Yes, a fungus literally working an ant like a puppet is different than Facebook or Catholicism.

Yes, those are controlling the brain. In this instance, the fungus seems to be skipping the brain and just working the muscles.

Honest answer: yes, being indoctrinated is pretty different than having your muscles literally controlled by a third party, if only for the illusion of agency

waiting for the rule 34...

This is an interesting topic in the world of psychology, neuroscience and behavioral sciences. For all of human history, the elite has been able to control human behavior through propaganda which target our eyes and ears primarily. Comparing it to computers, our eyes and ears are natural APIs to our brain. And the elite used words/sound, pictures/imagery, etc to manipulate the masses/brain. If neuroscience advances sufficiently enough, we might be able to bypass the eyes/ears/senses and directly manipulate the brain. This would be akin to using system exploits to bypass APIs and directly access memory and take control of a system. If we reach that stage, we won't need propaganda or psy ops or anything like that anymore to gets people to think or act in a particular manner. The elites/government can directly manipulate the brain/memory. It would be a form of direct parasitic control rather than the current indirect parasitic control of the masses by the government/elites.

But maybe if society and science has advanced to such a level, maybe we won't need humans anymore. If our understanding of the brain gets to such a level, organic/natural humans who be an evolutionary dead end and we'll be producing sentient AI. It seems like AI and brain research goes hand in hand. One informs the other and vice versa. The more we learn about the brain, the more we learn about AI. The more we learn about AI, the more we learn about the brain. Very interesting stuff.

Look at this picture of the final stage, after the 'stalk' sprouts from the ants head. Pretty haunting.


There is a 3-minute video from BBC Planet Earth showing an infected ant and its demise. https://youtu.be/XuKjBIBBAL8

It is like watching the Alien scene, except this is real.

It never occurred to me before... from the perspective of an insect (with a bit of anthropomorphism), fungus is an invisible, undefeatable faceless enemy that quickly turns the world into a nightmarish hellscape. It's almost like the borg. I'm fucking scared.

Imagining A Bug's Life or Antz could have been far less family-friendly if a couple of these spores made an appearance.

Yeah, but insects in nature die terribly in all kinds of awful ways.

Like pitcher plants? Or spiders? Yikes!

But then you see what a determined column of army ants can do to a frickin' horse, and you feel less bad about mother nature's ruthless biowarfare striving to keep them in check.

No wonder insects and swarms are the inspiration for so much horror-y sci-fi

Netflix has a new fungus documentary out called "Mushrooms" I think that shows this scene. This fungus is now being used for Cancer research.

I've seen this before, in a movie - "we cured cancer", then, suddenly, zombie apocalypse.

Outside of the horror of a fungus controlling the body, what's really cool is that they used deep learning to differentiate between ant cells and fungus cells when doing scans of the organisms.

One thing I wonder about is - why would it evolve to make the ants go away from the anthill?

Surely it would be best for spreading the fungus to make them go to the anthill and die there?

It seems more like a quarantine mechanism from ants POV. The fungus would spread faster if the ant continued as usual till it died, or stayed in the anthill.

But it also helps the fungus in a way - if the ants died in the anthill the whole anthill would soon die and the fungus with it.

So - maybe the ant reaction to the infection is actually a coevolved compromise between the fungus and the anthill, that lets both survive at the cost of individual ants?

I believe the other ants recognize that the individual is infected and forcibly dispel her from the colony, which is a defense mechanism the ants likely evolved. At least that's what's portrayed in the Planet Earth documentary, which spends a few minutes focusing on this fungus. The fungus could have evolved to be more sneaky so the ants wouldn't recognize the infection until it was too late, but I imagine it's easier to just have the ant go somewhere high up instead.

It certainly can look like a co-evolved compromise, though it formed through two competing species. I think what you're getting at is the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen_hypothesis

Interesting. I meant maybe the "code" to go far from anthill is in all ants, but only activates (by "design") in sick ones.

    if (sick)
Seems like a pretty sensible behavior to evolve in social insect.

And fungus just make them stop by destroying the correct muscles.

EDIT: and there's also another fungus, that makes the parasitic fungus sterile, so the fungus want to be spread away.


Damn biology is complicated :)

EDIT2: and they've checked and the fungus can't grow in the anthill for some reason.

Seems like a pretty sensible behavior to evolve in social insect.

The more reliable mechanism is the one that evolved - other insects decide who gets to stay and who has to be removed.

If I remember correctly, the fungus often (always?) manipulates the insect to climb to a relatively high point before spores burst from its head and body.


Parasite that eats the tongue of a fish than takes up residence in its place:


Anand Varma has a really powerful/terrifying photo series on host-parasite relationships in nature: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/mindsuckers/varma-...

The accompanying article in National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/mindsuckers/zimmer...

I had no idea so many different wasps were parasitic like this. This made my eyes water and my stomach churn. Especially the horsehair worm and house cricket.

This might sound crazy, i'm already sorry. Though given that the current theory seems to be that the fungus controls the ant like an exoskeleton propelling it up a tree without sensory data, maybe not so much, but there's something you will inevitably encounter when studying the implications of meditation and the traditions that engaged in it. In that living beings are supposed to have more than "one brain", in the case of a human being along the spinal column, several on the sympathetic nervous system and several on the parasympathetic nervous system.

Headbrain: associates, upper spinal column: movement, coccyx: instinct, solar plexus/heart: emotion, sexual region: drive. Each is supposed to function self-sufficiently, contemplates & reacts to the environment, at a certain velocity. For instance if one accidentally touches a hot-stove, all react without ones explicit decision or will: instinct -> emotion -> movement -> thought. The act they once called "mindfulness" or "self-observation" takes these impulses into account.

There are wasps that inject their larvae into caterpillars (and other animals). The larvae eat the host alive, but are careful to avoid vital organs. The wasp or larva/pupa inject/secrete something that controls the caterpillar, and soon the larva burrow out of the host. The caterpillar ends up spinning silk to nurture the larva after they come out, and defends them until it starves to death.




It has to be getting sensory input, though, right? So it must be reading that out of the brain somehow even if it's not controlling the brain, right? Or no?

Wondering now how ants walk and climb and such -- it would seem easier to go for the brain if you need to effect complex behaviors like that. But I recall that with insects' wings, at least, the brain only needs to send one signal and they'll beat for a long time. So maybe such behaviors are stored down by the legs or whatever, and that's why it doesn't need to go for the brain?

How do we 'really' know it was the fungus that controlled the ants? And not some sort of ants' self-defense mechanism?

Sometimes, when you think something is really creepy, some new knowledge comes along that makes you think, "ok I thought it ws creepy before, but that was actually nothing compared to this." I think if I were a researcher in this topic I would have nightmares.

Almost like the concept in 'Animorphs'. Even as a child I found that creepy. This just amplifies that feeling.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animorphs

If anyone is interested in "zombies" in nature or parasitism, david attenborough did a documentary on wasps and their parasitism. There is also something called hyperparasitism which are parasites that prey on other parasites.

The excellent novel The Girl With All The Gifts explores this theme

So what happens if this fungus infects the queen ant?

Does the fungus compel the queen to spread it to the entire hive?

Or does the hive choose to banish the queen, and thereby lose its ability to reproduce?

Could further exploration here potentially provide applications for neural lace technology?

The flood

Similar, but the most on the nose example in gaming is The Last Of Us, wherein this type of fungus leapt from insects to humans.

the concept was used to great effect in Halo 3.

Man... imagine a human weponize version of that!!!?

Essentially, it would be this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xavcTEwk3VQ

As a fan of stop motion, thank you for this.

I'm glad to see he got funding for ep3 of the series.

Think I've seen that film.

The Last of Us is based on the concept.

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