Rise of the zombie ants

When Jean-François Doherty first dipped into research papers on parasitic host-manipulation five years ago, he felt as though he was reading science fiction.

The technical jargon was peppered with colourful words and phrases such as ‘zombie’, ‘hijack’ and ‘mind control’. Even ‘puppeteer’ was used to describe host manipulation, whereby a parasitic organism significantly alters the appearance or behaviour of its host.

The “ample use of anthropomorphisms and words borrowed from science fiction” bothered Doherty, a PhD student studying host manipulation by hairworms at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “I knew these words were objectively inaccurate.”

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