They’re Eating WHAT? Understanding Ecosystems Through Weird Meals

A few days ago, while taking an unplanned distraction break on Facebook, I came across a video of an enormous coconut crab attacking a red-footed booby. The footage was captured by a biologist studying crab behavior in the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On this trip he had already confirmed that the monstrous crustaceans snacked on large rats, but he never expected to watch one devour a full bird.
This video sent me on a research journey into other interesting meals discovered by animal researchers. Besides providing sensational headlines about what’s eating what, these studies help us understand everything from nutrient exchange to learned behavior. I’ve compiled a short list of observations and discoveries made in the past few months where researchers have used weird meals to understand complex phenomena. Warning: this might get gruesome! Continue reading

For Halloween: Top 10 Scariest Blogs from Promega Connections

We at Promega Connections have covered much that is weird and scary in science over the last few years. In honor of Halloween, celebrated in the United States on October 31, we summarize and link to the top 10 scariest blogs on Promega Connections.

  1. Zombie Ants This is a story of a parasitic fungus that infects ants, causing drastic changes in normal behaviors: the ants climb to astounding heights off the jungle floor (for an ant) and bite a leaf, triggering the growth of a fungal stalk and spore sac from their heads – ultimately killing the ant and enabling the spores to hitch a ride on the wind for better distribution.

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Who Needs Science Fiction with Science Like This?

Ant infected with Ophiocordyceps unilaterius. (Image: PLOS One, via Creative Commons Licence)

Ant infected with Ophiocordyceps unilaterius. (Image: PLOS One, via Creative Commons Licence)

When I came across the Science News article “Death-Grip Fungus Made Me Do It” (2) last week, the title alone intrigued me enough to follow the link. Then I saw the picture of an ant with a large orange spike protruding out of its head. It looked like something out of a bad horror movie, and I recognized it immediately. You see, over the last several months my family has rented and watched the Planet Earth DVD series, and by far our most- and least-liked episode graphically chronicled the fate of ants infected with the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.  These ants climb upwards, bite into a leaf (or twig or branch) and die. A fungal spike grows out of the ant’s neck and releases its spores.  Watched with sped-up, time-elapsed photography, it is rather horrifying. Continue reading