By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News
If you thought fictional zombies walking around on film were scary, the condition that turns creatures into mindless eating machines actually exists in nature. In ants.
According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, ants that come in contact with the deadly fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis have their jaw muscles taken over until they eventually die.
The study’s lead author, Colleen Mangold, notes that the fungus does not attack their brains directly. Instead “the mandibular muscles … of infected ants are extensively colonized by the fungus,” she said in a statement
Image of an ant who received honeydew from aphid. (Credit: Dawidi, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Mangold, along with her other researchers found that the infected muscles showed evidence of hypercontraction as the ants clamped their jaws tightly onto a leaf vein or twig.
“Despite the extensive colonization, both motor neurons and neuromuscular junctions appear to be maintained,” the study’s abstract reads. “Infection results in sarcolemmal damage, but this is not specific to the death grip. We found evidence of precise penetration of muscles by fungal structures and the presence of extracellular vesicle-like particles, both of which may contribute to mandibular hypercontraction.”
Ultimately, the ant dies, as it’s consumed from within by the fungus. Making matters worse, spores of the deadly fungus drop below from the stalk that grows out of the dead ant in hopes of finding a new host.
The fungus is largely found in ants that live in tropical climates such as Brazil, Africa and Thailand.
Mangold’s research follows up on a 2017 study into the deadly effects of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.
By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News
NASA has released a photo taken by its Curiosity rover that shows a mysterious, unexplained white light on Mars.
The black-and-white raw image was taken by the rover’s right “navcam” (which acts as sort of an eye) on June 16, 2019 or Sol 2438, and transmitted back to Earth. The navcam snapped the picture at 03:53:59 UTC.
The rover has two navcams and 17 cameras and it has been sending photographs continuously since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, nearly seven years ago.
It’s unclear exactly what the white spot on the photograph is, as images taken almost immediately before and after do not show the mysterious white light. The images below, also released publicly, were taken at 03:53:46 UTC and 03:54:12 UTC.
This image was snapped by Curiosity at 3:53:46 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This image was snapped by Curiosity at 03:54:12 UTC. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This is not the first time an anomaly of this sort has been spotted by Curiosity on Mars. In 2014, a separate mysterious white spot was seen by the rover on April 3, or Sol 589. At the time, JPL scientist Dr. Justin Maki said he believed the light could be a glint from the “rock surface reflecting the Sun.”
In December 2018, Curiosity detected a “shiny” object which may be a meteorite, but NASA researchers were not sure at the time. “The planning team thinks it might be a meteorite because it is so shiny,” NASA wrote in a November 2018 mission update. “But looks can deceive, and proof will only come from the chemistry.”
Archaeologists in France have uncovered a mysterious carved stone block at a prehistoric hunting site.
The stone was found during excavations at Angouleme in southwestern France. A number of engravings have been carved into the sandstone, including horses, deer and an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle.
Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)
“The most visible engraving, that of a headless horse turned to the right, occupies half the surface,” according to a translated statement from French national archeological research organization Inrap. “The rump and the saddle follow the curves of the natural edge of the stone. Very fine incisions may suggest the coat”.
The area where the stone was found was used as a hunting site by the prehistoric Azilian culture. Other items discovered at the site include tools for stripping carcasses.
Side face of the sandstone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)
Experts think that the stone is about 12,000 years old. More research will be done to precisely date and gain more information from the artifact.
Other mysterious stones have been grabbing attention in France. A village in Brittany, for example, recently offered a reward to anyone who can decipher a strange inscription on a centuries-old rock.
Last year, archaeologists announced the discovery of 12,000-year-old cave drawings in Eastern France.
Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers