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Cordyceps

Fungal infection causes tarantula to grow antlers

original

This image may look like something dreamed up for a surreal horror movie, but it’s a real horror for the tarantula in question. This unfortunate arachnid is infected with Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that replaces its host’s tissue with its own.

Cordyceps fungi invades its hosts (mainly arthropods), and its mycelium eventually replaces the host’s tissue. Once the arthropod is dead, cylindrical or branching growths emerge from the creature’s dead body. Some species also have mind-control capabilities, convincing the host to travel to a place where the fungus will find optimal growth conditions before the host dies. If you haven’t seen it yet, this video from Planet Earth shows a Cordyceps fungus in action:

 

Really, when it come to being nightmarishly frightening, tarantulas have nothing on this freaky fungus.

Reference:

http://io9.com/5918948/fungal-infection-causes-tarantula-to-grow-antlers

 

Dung beetles keep on rollin’

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/24/dung-beetles-navigate-via-the-milky-way-an-animal-kingdom-first/

Talk about star power—a new study shows that dung beetles navigate via the Milky Way, the first known species to do so in the animal kingdom.

The tiny insects can orient themselves to the bright stripe of light generated by our galaxy, and move in a line relative to it, according to recent experiments in South Africa.

“This is a complicated navigational feat—it’s quite impressive for an animal that size,” said study co-author Eric Warrant, a biologist at the University of Lund in Sweden.

picture of a dung beetle

A dung beetle rolling its ball in South Africa. Photograph courtesy Eric Warrant.

Moving in a straight line is crucial to dung beetles, which live in a rough-and-tumble world where competition for excrement is fierce. (Play “Dung Beetle Derby” on the National Geographic Kids website.)

Once the beetles sniff out a steaming pile, males painstakingly craft the dung into balls and roll them as far away from the chaotic mound as possible, often toting a female that they have also picked up. The pair bury the dung, which later becomes food for their babies.

But it’s not always that easy. Lurking about the dung pile are lots of dung beetles just waiting to snatch a freshly made ball. (Related: “Dung Beetles’ Favorite Poop Revealed.”)

That’s why ball-bearing beetles have to make a fast beeline away from the pile.

“If they roll back into the dung pile, it’s curtains,” Warrant said. If thieves near the pile steal their ball, the beetle has to start all over again, which is a big investment of energy.

Seeing Stars 

Scientists already knew that dung beetles can move in straight lines away from dung piles by detecting a symmetrical pattern of polarized light that appears around the sun. We can’t see this pattern, but insects can thanks to special photoreceptors in their eyes.

Milky Way picture

The Milky Way glimmers over Indonesia. Photograph by Justin Ng, Your Shot.

But less well-known was how beetles use visual cues at night, such as the moon and its much weaker polarized light pattern. So Warrant and colleagues went to a game farm in South Africa to observe the nocturnal African dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus. (Read another Weird & Wild post on why dung beetles dance.)

Attracting the beetles proved straightforward: The scientists collected buckets of dung, put them out, and waited for the beetles to fly in.

But their initial observations were puzzling. S. satyrus could still roll a ball in a straight line even on moonless nights, “which caused us a great deal of grief—we didn’t know how to explain this at all,” Warrant said.

Then, “it occurred to us that maybe they were using the stars—and it turned out they were.”

Dapper Beetles

To test the star theory, the team set up a small, enclosed table on the game reserve, placed beetles in them, and observed how the insects reacted to different sky conditions. The team confirmed that even on clear, moonless nights, the beetles could still navigate their balls in a straight line.

To show that the beetles were focusing on the Milky Way, the team moved the table into the Johannesburg Planetarium, and found that the beetles could orient equally well under a full starlit sky as when only the Milky Way was present. (See Milky Way pictures.)

Lastly, to confirm the Milky Way results, the team put little cardboard hats on the study beetles’ heads, blocking their view of the sky. Those beetles just rolled around and around aimlessly, according to the study, published recently in the journal Current Biology.

Picture of a dung beetle

The scientists put hats on the dung beetles to block their ability to see stars. This beetle, which is wearing a clear hat, acted as a control in one experiment. Photograph courtesy Eric Warrant.

Dung beetle researcher Sean D. Whipple, of the Entomology Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said by email that the “awesome results …. provide strong evidence for orientation by starlight in dung beetles.”

He added that this discovery reveals another potential negative impact of light pollution, a global phenomenon that blocks out stars.

“If artificial light—from cities, houses, roadways, etc.—drowns out the visibility of the night sky, it could have the potential to impact effective orientation and navigation of dung beetles in the same way as an overcast sky,” Whipple said.

Keep On Rollin’

Study co-author Warrant added that other dung beetles likely navigate via the Milky Way, although the galaxy is most prominent in the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere.

What’s more, it’s “probably a widespread skill that insects have—migrating moths might also be able to do it.”

As for the beetles themselves, they were “very easy to work with,” he added.

“You can do anything you want to them, and they just keep on rolling.”

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/01/18/weird-wild-why-dung-beetles-dance/

Here’s the poop on why dung beetles dance: to orient themselves.

The insects “dance”—or spin atop their dung balls—when they hit a snag in their paths that throws them off their straight-line courses, scientists report in a new study.

(Watch a video of the dung beetle dance.)

In recent experiments, beetles were more likely to dance when the insects encountered an obstacle or lost control of their balls—suggesting the dance allows them to get their bearings again.

When a dung beetle finds a dung pile, it cuts off a piece, shapes the poop into a ball, and rolls the ball away to a distant location for burial and consumption.

With dung-ball thieves always underfoot, a ball-bearing beetle has to hustle—and a straight line is the most direct method of escape from competitors, according to the study, published January 18 in the journal PloS ONE.

But this can be a challenge, since dung beetles roll their balls facing backward, their heads to the ground, oblivious of obstacles or holes that lie ahead.

A dung beetle atop its ball. Photograph courtesy Emily Baird.

“Our findings are exciting because they suggest that dung beetles have developed very clever, robust techniques for orienting in a complex and ever-changing environment,” study leader Emily Baird, a functional zoologist at Lund University in Sweden, told me by email.

Baird found dung beetles obliging participants in the experiments, which took place on a farm in northwestern South Africa.

“It’s always great fun to do experiments with the dung beetles, as they are willing to roll and dance for long periods of time, even when we put them in the most unusual experimental situations, such as making them roll along a curved track, or causing them to repeatedly fall off a drop,” Baird said.

(Play Dung Beetle Derby on the National Geographic Kids website.)

“Where most animals would try to escape, or cease to behave in this situation, the dung beetles accept these disruptions and will continue to roll and dance all day long.”

Today is my son’s birthday

His father made this video slideshow this year.

For my son

Nehemiah Owen McKinsey
Born January 7, 1978
Died May 11, 2009

It is only because of our misunderstanding that we think the person we love no longer exists after they “pass away.”  This is because we are attached to one of the forms, one of the many manifestations of that person. The person we love is still there. He is around us, within us, and smiling at us.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh

This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide and seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave goodbye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We will always be meeting again at the true source, always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.
~~~~~~ Sutra “Given to the Dying” from the Anguttara Nikaya

And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
~~~~~~T.S. Eliot

Just as a mother would protect with her life her own son, her only son, so one should cultivate an unbounded mind towards all beings and loving kindness towards all the world.
~~~~~~Thich Nhat Hanh 

I am not a bit tamed….I am untranslatable
I depart as air….I shake my locks at the runaway sun.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

~~~~~~~~~Walt Whitman

Update: The perils blog has been running for a while and is now winding down as Sarah hopefully fades into the sunset. Since I will be posting less over there, and with fewer Palin posts, I’ve decided to revive this blog.  The Perils blog is fully functional, with lots of archival posts and a trickle of new posts, so feel free to wander over there if the subject matter interests you.

http://theperilsofpalins.wordpress.com

Spin-off

I have made the decision to spin off the Palin barbie portion of my blog. It will take me a few weeks at least to move my PlasticLand show to the new blog, but I will let my barbie/Palin satire fans know when and where the new blog will debut. If you are one of my bug post fans, I will be doing many more of those. This blog will concentrate on road trips, bugs, scenery, rants about people who cut down shoe trees, and all of the other eccentric odds and ends you have come to expect.  The only thing missing will be the barbie Palin dog and pony show, which needed its own venue. Stay tuned…

If they only had some brains

Our favorite couple shows their true colors. I just got them done, but soon I will put them in a scary setting. Maybe I’ll have them eat Joe Miller’s brains.