University of Central Florida researchers studying 'zombie ants'

UCF researchers are studying 'zombie ants.'

Sci-fi and horror aficionados might be tempted to say what is happening in Dr. Charissa de Bekker's research lab is 'how it starts.' You know, the 'zombie apocalypse?' After all the University of Central Florida researcher is infecting carpenter ants with a fungus that turns them into 'zombies.'

Dr. Bekker says, "We study a fungus, so a microbe that doesn't have a brain, that's able to take over the brain of an animal."

They do not know how or why yet, but when a carpenter ant becomes infected, it leaves its nest and moves into the forest.

"Here in Florida you often see them biting the Spanish moss and that's where the ant dies," de Bekker said.

Once they die, the fungus grows out of the ant carcass and drops spores, which then infects other carpenter ants, starting the process over.

Dr. de Bekker, plus four graduate students and five undergrads, are trying to figure out how and why the fungi create these 'zombie ants' and how those answers might be able to help non-zombie humanity.

The News Station's Tom Johnson takes you inside their lab.