Brown Food Web Friday–Basiceros, the dirty ant

January 5, 2007

Basiceros manni from Jack Longino's Ants of Costa Rica pagesOne of the great things about grubbing around in the litter of a tropical forest are all the odd ways, one finds, that creatures make a living. Taking the lemons (in a world that is, literally, rotting all around you) and making lemonade.

This is Basiceros manni (larger photo here), a slow moving predator that lives in tiny colonies of about 20 or so, nesting in soggy twigs and bits of rotten wood. Although it will eat a variety of insects in the lab, in the field it’s developed quite a taste for snails. Which suits its general habit quite nicely, as this thing pokes along at a snails pace and, if disturbed will curl up into a ball, armadillo like. A very crusty armadillo.

You see, Basiceros‘s is covered with long modified spoon shaped hairs (see below) that, are great at gathering dirt, and up-close hairs resembling a frazzled feather that are dandy at holding the dirt close to the body. As a consequence, a nice young female leaving the nest (remember, ants are female collectives that only produce males for the sperm) will, over time, grow to resemble a clod of dirt (albeit one a fairly charming one).

We used to think Basiceros was rare. Now we know to be patient, look carefully, and wait for the aroma of escargot.

Holldobler and Wilson 1986, Zoomorphology 106: 12-20

Ten reasons to watch where you put your hands

January 5, 2007

PigpenI was at a meeting last summer and ran into one of my students flush with victory at having caught up with one of the Greats, a verifiable National Academy of Sciences, Pulitizer Prize Winner, gold-standard biologist. After describing the discussion, pretty much verbatim he paused, noting that “Dr. XXXX shook my hand, then immediately cleaned his with a sanitary wipe.”

I told him not to take it personally.

A paper by Kelly Reynolds and colleagues suggests why a modicum of Bacillophobia may help get you through this flu season relatively unscathed. They assayed places you, and everybody else, are likely to place your hands while in public. They noted the presence of alpha-amylase (as an indicator of mucus, saliva, sweat and urine), hemoglobin (blood) and urea (‘nuf said). Their findings? I highly recommend that you don’t take the bus to the playground, stopping in the restroom before going to get groceries.

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