Fungus has been invading carpenter ants for 48 million years

Scientists have found that the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has possibly been invading carpenter ants (Camponotus) for 48 million years. The parasite not only infects the ant, but it manipulates the ant’s behavior as well, influencing it to bite the underside of leaves along the veins. Once the ant finds an optimal location, the fungus grows rapidly, killing the ant and preparing it to release a new spore. During this...

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Insect-eating not (just) for the birds

Nutritious, chemical-free and all-natural, insects are featured as the main protein in several Latin American, Asian and African countries. For example, in the Santander region of Colombia, leaf-cutter ants (called “hormigas culonas”) are sometimes eaten roasted, salted and have a slightly acidic taste. Mopane worms—the caterpillar for the moth Gonimbrasia belina—are popular in Botswana and are served dried or rehydrated...

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Field Talk: Termites enrich the soil in East Africa

Alison Brody holds a piece of termite mound Vertebrate fertilizer is not the only source of nutrients in the soils of East African savannahs, at least according to a study recently published in the journal Ecology. Alison Brody from the University of Vermont and colleagues found that termites actually had more of an effect on the fruiting success of Acacia trees in Kenya than did dung and urine deposition from ungulate herbivores,...

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Fire ant decapitating flies take hold in Florida,
one head at a time

Close-up of Solenopsis invicta Credit: Richard Nowitz, USDA It’s been roughly 80 years since the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) arrived from South America to Mobile, Alabama in soil used as ballast to weigh down boats. Needless to say, fire ants have adapted well in southern states like Texas, Louisiana and Florida, disrupting native wildlife and plants and causing problems for people ranging from shorting out street...

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Ants use olfactory landmarks to navigate

Ants, like this one in Tunisia, were found to smell in stereo and use this sense to navigate. Scientists have found that the ant is the first known animal both to process the location of odors and to use that information to create a cognitive map. And for ants, that means their pair of antennae work overtime to recognize and process multiple odors simultaneously. In other words, it seems ants smell in stereo.  Markus Knaden and...

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Fungi turn ants into zombies. (need I say more?)

A stroma, or spore-releasing body, of a killer fungus grows out of the head of a victim ant. Image courtesy David Hughes and with thanks to Science News. As much as Hollywood might want you to think they exist, zombies are fictitious. But a study out today claims that actually, they kind of do exist — if your undead is an ant and your possessive reviving sorcerer a deadly and clever species of fungus. Imagine you’re a...

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