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From the College of Natural Sciences
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Flies Captured on Video Turning Fire Ants Into Zombies

Flies Captured on Video Turning Fire Ants Into Zombies

​The skillful and ghoulish attack of parasitoid phorid flies on fire ants, filmed at the Brackenridge Field Lab, was recently featured in the PBS nature documentary, Supernature - Wild Flyers.

The footage shows the flight skills of these tiny flies as they launch an attack on living fire ants; ultimately rendering them into zombie-like hosts for the fly's larvae.

In a fraction of a second the parasitoid phorid fly lands on a fire ant, injects an egg into the ant's body and flees. The resulting fly larvae grows and devours the ant from within, until the ant becomes zombie-like, strays from its colony, and dies. Once grown, the baby fly emerges from the remains of its host to spread its wings for the first time.

A BBC film crew spent two weeks filming the sequences at the field lab last spring. The high speed, high magnification footage has provided researchers with never-before-seen views of the fly's aerial attack.

"We have seen the sequence up close for the first time, and we will be analyzing the footage to better understand the flight dynamics and rapid decision processes needed by the flies," said Dr. Rob Plowes, research scientist at Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

Watch the entire show here.

​Update: The Austin American-Statesman also reported on the zombie ants for Halloween 2016.

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Saturday, 04 February 2023

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