What We Talk About When We Talk About Zombie Ants


One of the best things about fact-checking an article about combatting invasive pests with imported insects is that the researching process jumps back and forth so effortlessly from serious academic and scientific questions, to really crude Discovery Channel-style footage of insects eating other insects. Cutting-edge entomological research is pretty highbrow stuff. Referring to the subjects of cutting-edge entomological research as “zombie ants”? Not so much. To wit:

Story link: kxan.com

Brain-eating larvae are inherently newsworthy, but there’s a broader signifance, too. As Michael Behar explains in the latest issue of Mother Jones, Texas’ experiments with phorid flies are part of a relatively recent push by entomologists and land managers to combat invasive pests not with gallons upon gallons of toxic chemicals, but with something far more basic: their natural predators, imported from the home country. The process is called biocontrol, and if it works, it can save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and keep sensitive ecosystems clear of harmful chemicals. It’s not an easy process—biocontrol projects regularly take decades to yield results—but it just may be man’s best shot at reining in invasive pests with  names ripped out of Harry Potter (leafy spurge, tansy ragwort, cottony cushion scale) and no natural predators. As one University of Florida researcher tells Behar, “We’ve reached the end of our chemical rope”; maybe it’s time to give the insects a shot.

Anyways, it’s a fascinating topic. Check out the piece here. Read more about ants whose minds have been possessed by fungi here.

Fact:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

Donate Now
  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.