A Moment of Science

Parasites that Turn Ants into Berries!

Scientists working in Panama have discovered a parasitic worm that infects a certain species of ant, altering the ant to look like a red, ripe berry.

Reddish Ant on a Leaf

Photo: ViaMoi (flickr)

This ant could have the parasitic worm that changes its color.

Scientists working in Panama have discovered a parasitic worm that infects a certain species of ant, altering the ant to look like a red, ripe berry.

Why, you ask?

Well, the parasitic worms actually need to infect birds, not ants. The problem however, is getting inside a bird without being killed in the process.

The clever solution: using ants as bait. See if you can follow.

The particular ant that carries the parasite feeds bird feces to its young. A worm already in the bird lays eggs, leaving them in the bird’s droppings. As the ants feed these droppings to its young, the parasite is passed on.

The ants which are normally black and very bitter tasting become red and swollen from the infection, even holding their berry-like abdomen conspicuously up in the air.

When a gullible bird gobbles up the apparent berry, it gets a stomach full of parasites, starting the cycle over.

Biologists believe that this process is what has allowed the parasite to be so successful.

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