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David Hughes, Penn State University

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Dr. Dick van der Wateren

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fossils, insect, parasite, fungi, Messel

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'Zombie ants' controlled by parasitic fungus since the mid Eocene.

19.08.2010, Age: 2800 days

Earliest evidence of fungus that uses chemicals to take over ants' brains before they are killed.

David P. Hughes, Torsten Wappler and Conrad C. Labandeira. Ancient death-grip leaf scars reveal ant-fungal parasitism. Biol. Lett. published online before print August 18, 2010.

Article abstract:

Parasites commonly manipulate host behaviour, and among the most dramatic examples are diverse fungi that cause insects to die attached to leaves. This death-grip behaviour functions to place insects in an ideal location for spore dispersal from a dead body following host death. Fossil leaves record many aspects of insect behaviour (feeding, galls, leaf mining) but to date there are no known examples of behavioural manipulation. Here, we document, to our knowledge, the first example of the stereotypical death grip from 48 Ma leaves of Messel, Germany, indicating the antiquity of this behaviour. As well as probably being the first example of behavioural manipulation in the fossil record, these data support a biogeographical parallelism between mid Eocene northern Europe and recent southeast Asia.


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