Attack of the Zombie Fire Ants

Researchers use flies to turn pesky fire ants into zombies that die

Some Texas researchers are trying a new weapon against fire ants: Make 'em into the living dead.

It's an air war with parasitic flies that turn the pesky insects into zombies whose heads fall off.

The tool is the tiny phorid fly, a native to a region of South America where the fire ants in Texas originated.

Researchers have learned that as many as 23 phorid species along with pathogens attack fire ants to keep their population and movements under control.

A Texas A&M study shows fire ants cost the state economy about $1 billion annually by damaging circuit breakers and other electrical equipment. They can also threaten young calves.

So far, four phorid species have been introduced in Texas against the fire ants.

University of Texas research associate Rob Plowes said the flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot then hatches inside the ant and eats away at the brain.

Later, the ant gets up and starts wandering like a zombie for about two weeks before its head falls off.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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