The incredible story of the roundworm parasite and ‘ant berries’
It might sound a bit sick, but I love reading about parasites, and especially brain-controlling parasites. They’re a fascinating phenomenon arising from evolution, and they are very clean examples of the awesome power of natural selection. I’ve decided to write about a few neat parasites for today.
The above picture shows a C. atracus ant infected by the roundworm Myrmeconema neotropicum. The infection causes the ant’s abdomen to turn bright red, resembling a berry. The worms also affect the ant’s brain, causing the ants to move slowly and waive their rear in the air. The result is a perfect recipe for birds, thinking the ant is a berry, to swoop in and eat the infected bug. This plays directly into the roundworm’s hand, which needs the bird to eat it in order to be spread in the bird’s droppings. It’s a convoluted life cycle, but it fits right in with one of my favorite quotes about evolution, by Samuel Butler: “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.”