What can make an ant have a really bad day? The parasitic fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilaterius! This fungus actually causes an infected ant to climb to a certain tree level in the jungle, bite down on the underside of a leaf, and stay there until it dies. The fungus needs a safe environment to grow, which can be found mid-level in a tropical rainforest. The underside of the leaf protects the fungus from too much rain and provides it with the right amount of light.
Scientists aren’t sure what the fungus changes inside the infected ants to modify their behavior in this way. However, when scientists placed the infected ants either higher in the jungle canopy or lower (on the ground), the fungus was not able to survive.1
Fossilized leaves have been found showing evidence of the same bite marks produced by infected ants! Some insects trapped in amber have also been found to contain similar fungus.2
How did this parasitic fungus get the ability to influence the behavior of ants? We know that God proclaimed everything He created to be “very good” on Day Six of the Creation Week (see Genesis 1:31). So at this point, fungus did not prey upon ants. Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in a fallen world, where death and suffering affected the entire creation.
Genesis says that God called His Creation “very good,” so we are confident that fungi, viruses, bacteria, and even flatworms fulfilled helpful, not harmful, roles in that original world. Since the Fall, a combination of mutations, horizontally transferred genes, environmental changes, and host changes have left us with a number of harmful microorganisms in addition to those that still fulfill vital ecological roles.2
—Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell
To learn more, please read:
1 Brian Switek, “The Scariest Zombies in Nature”, Smithsonian.com, October 18, 2010, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Scariest-Zombies-in-Nature.html.
2 Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, News to Note, November 5th, 2011, Answers in Genesis, http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/11/05/news-to-note-11052011.