It’s Weird Creature Day and this week’s news has some good ones. A Japanese caterpillar creates drugged zombie ants to use as bodyguards. An armadillo in Texas may be bulletproof. And invasive giant land snails in Florida are developing new tricks.
Until recently, experts thought the caterpillars of the Japanese oakblue butterfly (Narathura japonica) had a deal with local ants (Pristomyrmex punctatus). In return for a sugary secretion from the caterpillars, the ants would protect them from spiders and wasps. According to a new study in Current Biology, this may not be a mutually beneficial relationship. Researchers noticed that the same ants always guarded a given caterpillar, the ants never returned to their nests or ate any food other than the secretions and they seemed to attack on a tentacle-flipping command from the caterpillar. An analysis of the sugar secretions confirmed that they contained chemicals which affected the dopamine levels of the ants, making them aggressive, addicted and obedient. There was no indication that the zombie ants preferred spider or wasp brains.
Meanwhile, in Cass County, Texas, a man with a gunshot wound on his head blamed it on a bullet that ricocheted off of an armadillo he had shot at. While the nine-banded “little armored ones” common to Texas have tough shells made of dermal bone, exterminators regularly use firearms to kill them. This sounds like a similar story in Florida about a bullet ricocheting off of an armadillo and hitting the shooter’s mother-in-law. Was alcohol involved in either case? Unfortunately, the armadillos were not available for questioning.
Finally, the 7-inch-long giant African land snails that invaded Florida four years ago are resisting all forms of extermination and may be smarter than we think. When organic pesticides didn’t work, officials switch to a molluscicide containing metaldehyde that is supposed to be 95 to 100 percent effective. That’s true … as long as the snails stay on the ground. The Florida snails are now climbing trees to get around the pesticide pellets.
Let’s hope the giant snails don’t figure out how to make zombie ants. And don’t say shoot ‘em. Those guys in Florida and Texas can’t hit the side of an armadillo.