For my work, I read or skim about a dozen scientific papers a week. Every once in a while, I find a paper that is interesting enough to share, so I thought I’d post cool findings from these papers once a week (or so).
This week, I’ll share one coauthored by a former professor of mine and Sarah’s at the University of Oklahoma. Mike Kaspari and his colleagues study Panamanian ants. They previously discovered that the species Cephalotes atratus uses its uniquely flattened head to glide itself to the safety of a tree trunk when knocked from a branch.
In their new paper:
Yanoviak,S.P, M. Kaspari, R. Dudley, and G. Poinar Jr. 2008. Parasite-induced fruit mimicry in a tropical canopy ant. The American Naturalist 171(4): 536-544.,
they report that when this species is infected with a parasitic nematode, their abdomens eventually fill with eggs and turn bright red.
The infected ants hold their abdomens conspicuously in the air and resemble small ripe fruits which attract frugivorous birds. The birds pluck the abdomens right off the doomed ants and pass the eggs in their feces which are actually gathered by the same species of ants for food, completing the cycle.
Another creepy example of how, in the war of parasites versus hosts, the parasites continue to win!