Friday, May 13, 2011


What child was not given an ant farm at one point in their lives (or if you were poor, just played with the ants that undoubtedly crawled throughout your kitchen stealing what little food you had)? Spending hours watching them make their endless tunnels only to eventually grow bored and end up shaking the whole thing to destroy their painstaking work to prove that you were the superior species.

The ant farm: bringing out the sadist in children since 1956.

But when nature looks down on the tiny any, she doesn’t see hours of discovery and wonderment. No, she sees a seemingly endless supply of potential zombies. In fact nature loves infecting the insect world’s tireless little laborers, proving that even the universe looks down upon dutiful workers as nothing more than a disposable resource. From the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a fungi that forces its host to climb up a plant stalk above the colony and grab onto the plant with its mandibles until it dies and a stalk grows from its head to rain down its zombifying spores upon the hapless colony; to Dicrocoelium dendriticum, a lancet fluke that also causes ants to climb up plant stalks (but only at night while the rest of the colony is sleeping so as not to be noticed, like some sort of horrible were-ant) so that it may be eaten by grazing sheep and cows, its primary hosts. But the absolute most terrifying has to be Pseudacteon, a genus related to the harmless but ever annoying fruit fly. As we all know, evolution is not content to keep anything harmless when there is a way to turn it into a source of our deepest fears. The female of these tiny flies (about the size of an ant’s head) search for colonies of only one species of ant (the species depends on the species of Pseudacteon). When it finds a suitable host, it dive bombs the ants until it can grab one and stab its thorax with its ovipositor, injecting it with a single egg before flying off. At this point the ant is probably freaking the hell out, but other than having a crazy story to tell the rest of the colony that must be reminiscent of hillbillies and their stories of alien abduction, the ant is mostly unharmed.

As the ant is being told that it was just a crazy dream by its nest mates, the egg hatches and migrates to the head of the ant. It is here that it begins to feast on everything around it. As more and more of its brain is eaten away, the ant begins to wander away from the colony in a rather aimless fashion. A few days in, the entire contents of the head are eaten yet the body continues to wander at behest of its new master. At this point the ant is a zombie in the traditional sense, a dead body wandering about, and yes, only a head shot can ‘kill’ it.

Years of survival horror games have prepared you for this very moment.

Eventually the larvae is ready to pupate, but having the zombie body would just be a hassle, so it does what any self respecting source of terror does, it causes the head to fall off and uses the empty skull as a cozy metamorphosis chamber. It then emerges a fully developed fly and buzzes off to find a mate and continue the cycle anew. I’m sure this is exactly what Disney had in mind with that “Circle of Life” song from “The Lion King”.

To make sure you don’t sleep ever, I should let you in on a little secret. These tiny abominations that would give Ridley Scott nightmares are being bred in captivity en mass. You see, a particular species preys only on Fire Ants, a species of ant that has been invading vast areas of land throughout the Americas. To combat this, certain groups in the Unites States have decided it would be a good idea to raise huge amounts of these face-hugger flies and see if they might help control the spread of Fire Ants. Thus far, the project has shown no noticeable change in the spread of these invasive ants. But when the tiny zombie apocalypse occurs, we will at least know who to blame, we’re looking at you University of Texas at Austin. Why are we not surprised that Texas would be the one to doom us all.
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Ahab said...

:: shudders ::

Cyc said...

I'll take the fact that you took the time to write out your shudder as a compliment.