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, influencing it to bite the underside of the leaf at the veins. Once the ant hits an optimal location, the fungus grows rapidly, killing the ant and preparing it to release a new spore.
Nutritious, chemical-free and all-natural, insects are featured as the main protein 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 with sauces and other ingredients.
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, such as zebras and gazelles.
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 lights to stinging limbs.
But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, scientists brought over several strains of parasitoid flies from Argentina in an attempt to naturally eradicate the fire ants. A scientist recently found that one particular fly strain may be able to completely wipe out fire ants in northern Florida.
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.