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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The iconic 125-year-old Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, is facing the threat of closure...
Recent results from the Curiosity Mars rover have helped scientists formulate a plan for the next phase of its mission...
A new, remarkably powerful drug that cripples the hepatitis C virus (HCV) came to market last week, but it sells for $...
In pretoothbrush populations, gumlines would often be marred by a thick, visible crust of calcium phosphate, food...
Evolutionary biologists have long studied how the Mexican tetra, a drab fish that lives in rivers and creeks but has...
Victorian astronomers spent countless hours laboriously charting the positions of stars in the sky. Such sky mapping,...
In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now...
Stefan Behnisch has won awards for designing science labs and other buildings that are smart, sustainable, and...
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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ScienceShot: Sick Ants Don't Compromise the Whole Nest
21 September 2012 1:31 pm
A particularly bad flu season can empty schools, clear out offices, and cripple productivity. But when ants are infected—with tapeworms, for example—their nests, surprisingly, keep humming along. The tiny ant Temnothorax nylanderi lives in groups of up to 200 in acorns and sticks in European forests. Parasite eggs likely enter the nest via woodpecker feces, which the ants collect and feed to their young. The young become infected by consuming the eggs with the feces and wind up petite and yellow—instead of brown—as adults (see picture). Researchers have found that up to a third of T. nylanderi's nests are infected, and they expected to see a corresponding productivity decline in those nests. Indeed, a comparative study of sick and healthy ants collected from the wild and kept in artificial glass containers showed that sick ants don't do their share: They rarely go outside the nest and spend most of their time hanging out or begging food from their healthy nestmates. Yet the colony as a whole is as productive as uninfected colonies, researchers reported online today in The American Naturalist. It seems that, despite their industrious reputation, quite a few ants just sit around and do nothing—which means that there's an existing buffer of workers already laboring to make up for the sick ones. But an examination of nests brought in from the wild showed one difference: The infected colonies produced more males than the uninfected ones—possibly because males are more likely to move away from the nest and out of range of the local tapeworm.
See more ScienceShots.