Parasites Turn Ants into Berries

Just when Andrew and I decided once and for all that ants couldn't get any more delicious looking, along comes a new parasitic roundworm that turns our whole world on its head! The newly discovered nematode enters the ants when they eat bird droppings and causes their abdomens to resemble ripe, tasty berries. This in turn draws the attention of birds who love both berries and ants. The birds eat the ants, crap out the parasites, and the whole thing starts over again. Now we know what Elton John was talking about in that song in the Lion King!

Seriously though take a look at the picture below from discovery.com

i-87608ed8cc8f4fff04400db171f01ff4-Ant Berry.jpg

I want to garnish my raspberry mojito with that thing! Scientists are not quite sure how the parasite causes the color change. "We think the worms either sequester pigment compounds from the exoskeleton or they make the exoskeleton thinner -- or maybe both," said Dr. Weird Al Yanoviak of UC Berkeley in the aforementioned article.

But but-but-but-wait it gets worse! Lugging around a berry-flavored abdomen also causes the ants to be sluggish, which makes them even MORE likely to get eaten by birds. We see a delightful Pixar movie in the making here... but maybe that's just us.

Special thanks to Nick Van Der Horst for bringing this to our attention!

More like this

tags: researchblogging.org, neotropical ants, Cephalotes atratus, parasitic nematodes, Myrmeconema neotropicum, tetradonematid nematode, evolution, coevolution, fruit mimicry A neotropical black ant, Cephalotes atratus, infected with the newly described parasitic nematode,Myrmeconema neotropicum…
Here's a story about a parasitic nematode that turns black ants into ripe red berries. What's this about? The parasite needs to get its eggs from an infected ant to healthy ants. Apparently it hasn't been successful the old-fashioned way, just broadcasting its eggs about the environment.…
A normal giant gliding ant (left) and an infested ant (right). The red color of the gaster is not caused by a pigment, but thinning of the exoskeleton combined with the color of the nematode eggs. From Yanoviak et al, 2008.In one of my favorite episodes of the animated TV show Futurama, the chief…
Mind Control. Body-Snatchers. They sound like they're straight out of a science fiction novel, but the truth is parasites have been ahead of us in manipulatory technology for eons. They're the best of the best at making another species bend to their will. Here are some examples of some science…

We see a delightful Pixar movie in the making here... but maybe that's just us.

Ya! Like maybe "The berries and the birds." Subtitled, ( and why it's better to be the bird, LOL)!
Dave Briggs :~)

By Dave Briggs (not verified) on 22 Jan 2008 #permalink

Classic extended phenotype you got there

This in turn draws the attention of birds who love both berries and ants. The birds eat the ants, crap out the parasites, and the whole thing starts over again...