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Bad berries

8:58pm, January 22, 2008

A parasitic worm transforms ants into walking tropical berries, new research suggests. The abdomens of infected gliding ants bulge with hundreds of microscopic nematode eggs, while the color turns from black to maroon. Afflicted ants also show off their bloated abdomens far more often than uninfected ants.

With luck, a hungry bird will mistake the ant for a fruity meal, spreading the parasites—but sacrificing the unwitting ant. A team led by entomologist Steve Yanoviak of the University of Arkansas in Little Rock has shown that the nematode eggs emerge healthy from the bird droppings. Uninfected worker ants may collect the droppings, starting the cycle anew, Yanoviak's team reports in the April American Naturalist.

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