Category Archives: Insects

Scientia Pro Publica #46

Scientia Pro Publica

Alright you lot, apologies for hibernating for the last couple of months. For those of you who don’t know (ie. who aren’t on twitter), I’ve been working at Australian science magazine, Cosmos, since June, and it’s keeping me very busy and happy. But don’t give up on old RP completely – we’ll be back very soon…

That aside, I’m super-excited to be able to host the 46th edition of Scientia Pro Publica: a rotating bi-monthly compilation of the best blog writing targeted to the public about science, medicine, the environment and technology. And if you a) think taking 5000 bees in a suitcase on a plane is a great but pointless idea, b) think strapping a prawn to a treadmill is a great but pointless idea or c) need proof that chimps are nothing like humans because you hate them and don’t want to look at them ever as much as I do – prepare to be enlightened.

Or don’t, I don’t know, it’s not like it’s going to change anything. Either way it’s just going to end with a, “Huh. Cool.” anyway, which is pretty much ideal if you ask me.

beesonaplane

So first up: BEES ON A PLANE

The team over at More Than Honey – The Making of a Bee Documentary tell the amazing story of German biologist, Max Renner – student of the famous bee expert, Karl von Frisch, – who somehow stuffed 5000 bees into a wooden suitcase in 1955 and boarded a plane from Paris to New York to see how their tiny internal ‘bee clocks’ would cope. Do bees get jetlag? What kind of decor does a Bee Room need?  Click to find out…

So bees can count to four and speaking of counting and segways, The Questionable Authority blog destroys the dreams of school kids everywhere by explaining why Conrad Wolfram’s idea proposal to let computers do the calculations in maths class instead of the kids doing it themselves just won’t work. Fifteen-year-old me is devastated. And continuing on our mini maths jaunt, MarkCC from Good Math, Bad Math explains what obfuscatory mathematics is and precedes to stomp all overits use to argue against the value of vaccination.

Things are getting characteristically philosophical over at Traversing the Razor, where that giant cat overlord oversees a post to celebrate Carl Sagan Day (8th November) with an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot (1994). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an incredible read. The giant cat overlord would also like you to ponder the science versus the products of science question while you bask in his hypnotic gaze.

eleutherodactylus-iberia

THIS GUY.

Look at him. He’s the weeniest. But being weeny doesn’t mean he can’t kill things. GrrlScientist from Punctuated Equilibrium explains how the recently discovered eleutherodactylus iberia – the Cuban mini-frog – evolved to be highly toxic due to its very specific diet.

Meanwhile, not-so-poisonous but a whole lot more deadly if you’re a harbour seal – the Pacific sleeper sharks have been found to be controlling certain parts of its ecosystem with fear. That’s just the kind of thing a shark would do, only sleeper sharks aren’t known for eating seals. Chuck from Ya Like Dogs explains the science of keeping ’em in line – fear style.

Also frightening are chimps. Don’t even get me started. Now, I specifically asked for no chimp-related submissions because I don’t want primates infecting this blog, but Norman Johnson from Watching the Detectives compromises by reviewing Jeremy Taylor’s Not a Chimp. If I’m going to have to read about chimps, it helps that I’m reading about how unlike humans they are.

Emily Willingham from The Biology Files introduces us to microchimerism. And no, this isn’t some awesome condition that makes you develop the parts of a lion, a goat and a snake and then makes you really really small. I know, I’m disappointed too. What it does mean is that we can carry a few cells from someone else around with us, meaning our parents are literally with us all the time. Again, frightening.

Now I hope you all remember THIS:

It gets me every single time. But now thanks to Andrew from Southern Fried Science, we now know why that prawn is unwittingly scrambling for its life. You’ll also find out about other scientific experiments that don’t harm the animals (even the Pigeon’s Obstacle Course of Doom and Baby Seal Waterboarder) but can tell us so much about them.

Meanwhile Andrew Bernardin hits us with some null news over at 360 Degree Skeptic, discussing recent null experimental results involving fish oil and green tea and why they are important, and Bob O’Hara from Deep Thoughts and Silliness takes a look at a paper on research fraud, and find the Americans aren’t as bad as the paper made out. So America: 1, Journal of Medical Ethics: zero.

Last up – Mike McRae from The Tribal Scientist talks about the real education gap – between science and maths communicators and their students – and makes some really important points, and Bill Litshauer from RelativelyInteresting.com explains how the seasons work, in terms that even I can understand. (Shhhh….)

Now I’ll leave you with James Byrne from Disease of the Week!’s post about gut flora. It’s gross. There are gross bodily functions, gross bodily emissions, gross babies eating gross bodily emissions…. but it’s also a great read.

Thus ends my part. And now I’m going to read something really really stupid to balance all of this out. Or watch cat videos. I’ll just do that. If you want to get involved in the next Scientia Pro Publica, keep an eye on the website for submission details.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Insects, New Species!, Random Rants, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Pokémon Vs The Royal Botanic Gardens

I’m not going to lie. I was practically dragged out of bed last Sunday morning. “I just want to play Pokémon. That’s all I want to do. Yes I’m serious.”

And of course that old adage that would haunt me as a child every Wednesday night at Brownies and every Thursday night at swimming training – You’ll enjoy it when you get there – stings just as much now as it did then. YES, okay, I had a good time. And I got to play Pokémon afterwards when I got home anyway. Now leave me the hell alone.

As part of National Science Week this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney had an Open Day on Sunday 22nd August, offering guided tours of their labs and nurseries and collections, as well as self-guided tours around the gardens and other family-oriented activities. Having attended the Plant Pathology Tour, run by their resident pathologists, and the Herbarium Tour, which took us through the National Herbarium of New South Wales, I was so impressed by the organisers’ ability to cater to both kids and adults in their programming.

Sure, neither of these tours I attended were particularly suited to children, all but one of the four that showed up to the Herbarium Tour slipping out within the first ten minutes, but there was an entire hall filled with activities like plant mounting, botanical illustration and microscope viewing, plus an insect-themed self-guided mystery tour, and guided “bush tucker” and wildlife walks, so no one – not even this grumpy Sunday morning Running Ponies correspondent – could have been bored.

Honestly, how great does this look:

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Hands on Science - Royal Botanic Gardens

Exactly.

Having adults and kids simultaneously fascinated – that’s what Science Week should be about, but it’s a very tricky business to get right.

The Plant Pathology Tour took a group of six of us through one of the new labs at the Gardens, and we learnt about the disease cycle of chestnut rot, funguses, and how to extract, process and photograph DNA. The adults asked a lot of questions. I played it cool and asked nothing. #brainsabbath

Next I did something really stupid and opted not to line up for the sausage sizzle, all like, “Oh my God, there isn’t time!” The Herbarium Tour was in fifteen minutes. I’m not sure who I thought I was at that particular moment, but in hindsight I could’ve probably eaten about three before the tour started. (It was 2pm and I hadn’t had breakfast yet. Don’t judge me.)

I did get a charmingly eclectic sample bag though, its contents going progressively off-topic:

* Science magazines

* A magnetic waratah bookmark

* Stickers of a smiling water droplet

*A ruler with a T. Rex in space on it

* Toothpaste.

Irrelevance aside, it was definitely one of the better free sample bags I’ve picked up at an Open Day. At least this shit I can use.

The National Herbarium of New South Wales looks like this:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
National Herbarium of New South Wales

Thousands and thousands of plastic red boxes in rows and rows and rows containing 1.2 million specimens from Australia and around the world. It might look and sound a bit dull, and I’m not even that into, you know, plants, but they’ve got an art exhibition in the foyer, a library, and every one of those red boxes are filled with these, which are surprisingly fantastic to look through:

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium specimen mounts

And it’s all open to the public. I went in not knowing that the Herbarium existed, and came out seriously considering coming back and spending an entire day there.

We also had a tour of one of their labs and got an even more thorough walkthrough of the process of DNA extraction. We finished up and went outside and the sausage sizzle was gone. I panicked and wondered if they had food in the Gardens’ Shop. They did not.

National Herbarium of New South Wales
Herbarium bottled specimens

Like the Melbourne Museum, the Botanic Gardens have a great Science Week program. I would have stayed and done the self-guided tour because it was a stunning Sydney day, but I don’t keep biscuits in my bag.

Visit PlantNET – the Herbarium’s online plant identification site here.

– bec

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Filed under Art, Events, Free Stuff, Insects, Science

“The Oscars of Australian Science” – Eureka Awards Dinner 2010

eureka awards 2010

From one madcap taxi ride to Randwick Pavilion to regrettable post drinks at an open-till-5am bar on Oxford Street, the Eureka Awards Dinner is pretty much one of the best parties in town. Established in 1990, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded annually to those with outstanding achievements in science and science communication. This year the highlights included chickens with feelings, photogenic insects and nicely-dressed scientists as far as the eye could see. I love a nicely-dressed scientist.

Sitting at the Science Week table I learnt about Questacon’s badly-behaved talking robot who said inappropriate things to children before they removed and reprogrammed him, and watched the 19 prizes being handed out over dinner.

Chicken sympathisers, Chris Evans and K-Lynn Smith, trumped researchers working on a way to replace animal testing and saving dogs from inherited disorders for the Research that Contributes to win the Prize for Scientific Research That Contributes To Animal Protection:

“Groundbreaking research using new high-tech chook-friendly testing facilities challenges the concept of the feckless fowl… titled Sentient chickens: the scientific case for improved standards, it portrays chickens as social, intelligent creatures complete with Machiavellian tendencies to adjust what they say according to who is listening.”

Given that chicken was being alternated with barramundi that night, I’m assuming they switched meals with whomever was sitting next to them while they waiting in the queue for the bathroom.

“What’s barramundi?” friends from Europe asked me.

“An Australian fish.”

“Sounds like a good name for a cat, or a baby girl.”

Europeans.

A world-first collaboration between a cattle breeder and six scientists won the Prize for Research by an Interdisciplinary Team for their work with Meat Standards Australia, and Amanda Barnard from CSIRO the prize for Scientific Research as she develops an invisible, environmentally friendly sunscreen.

I visited the COSMOS table up the front where things were getting suitably anarchic, before the saddest moment in the evening when our two nominees for the Science Journalism Prize, John Pickrell and Elizabeth Finkel, were beaten by the ABC. Read Pickrell’s incredible piece on feathered dinosaurs and Lizzie’s elegant exploration of genes here and here.

I tweeted/texted double sad faces from across the room.

“Are you blogging right now??”

“No. I’m just texting…”

Guys, I’m not that clever. Sorry.

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Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Film, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science

Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

museum victoria qantassaurus

Qantassaurus

Melbourne Museum – I could totally live in you. I know that sounds like something a psychopath would say, but there’s no other way to put it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole entire building, just the Science and Life Gallery would be fine. And yes, both floors please. Just rope it off and everyone else can go crazy everywhere else. Quietly. I get the dinosaurs and the taxidermy and the insects.

Except you’re going to have to move the spiders elsewhere, particularly the live ones and particularly the live ones that aren’t even in boxes. What is that, MM? I honestly stood there for like five minutes straight trying to come to terms with the fact that there’s literally nothing except a giant room-sized web between those orb-weavers and us, and I know they aren’t particularly dangerous and have no reason to come out of their giant room-sized web and mingle with the humans, but that’s not the point. They’re still spiders, MM. You’re playing with fire in a giant room-sized web.

Science on Show

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Mammology Display

National Science Week kicked into gear yesterday and Melbourne Museum was the absolute best place to spend the first day. And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I did and obviously have no comparison. But…

* Live insects

* Museum experts

* Australia’s best scientific illustrators

I rest my case.

I began with Science on Show, which involved half a dozen display tables filled with stuffed, bottled and boxed specimens, Australian megafauna fossils and a model crab the size of a curled up human child and so on, all manned by various experts from the Museum. I got to pat a taxidermied tapir and made some dumb comment about how it looks like it’s stuck in a really powerful wind tunnel with that posture (well it does), rifle through a trolley’s worth of poltergeist-esque sea creatures in jars, and get mad at the terrestrial invertebrates expert for holding up two huge bottled spiders and making me compare their fangs. DO NOT WANT, as they say.

Then I may or may not have rendered myself the creepiest person in the building by deciding I wanted these for my livingroom:

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Ornithology Display

Yes. Rows and rows of tiny dead birds. That’s what I want in my house. Jesus. But it might come as less of a shock to you now when I tell you I want this room as my bedroom:

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Trust Me When I Say You’re Going to Need a Blow Torch and Some Rope, Amaurobius ferox Spiderlings.

black-lace weaver spider

In a discovery both sinister and intriguing, a biologist in South Korea has found that life as a juvenile Black-lace weaver spider (Amaurobius ferox) is far from easy. As part of a group known as subsocial spiders, an A. ferox individual will hatch with some 60-130 siblings and remain on a communal web with its mother, living off the eggs she lays for it until it is old enough for a more solitary lifestyle. But things aren’t as simple as they sound, because before they can venture off on their own, these spiderlings must first eat their devoted mother alive. A week or so after hatching, the mother will encourage her brood to devour her body, a strategy which has been found to produce a higher number of surviving offspring, as opposed to abandoning them early to lay a second clutch.

But this is not the only cooperative behaviour displayed by A. ferox juveniles. In the first study examining the synchronisation movements in non-social or subsocial spiders, Dr. Kil Won Kim of the University of Incheon of the Republic of Korea has found that in response to certain stimuli, the orphaned spiderlings will group together and contract their bodies in unison in order to make their web pulse. This behaviour, which would emerge just one day post-matriphagy, is typically triggered by the approach of intruding insects, mites or worms, an individual spiderling sensing this potential threat, causing it to contract in response. Other spiderlings in the huddle then follow suit, contracting and relaxing their bodies to create a pull-and-release effect on the web. The A. ferox juveniles continue to use this apparent defense mechanism for seven to nine days, by which time they appear to grow out of it, focussing their collective efforts on hunting prey up to twenty times their size instead. Dr. Kim notes, “contraction seems to occur only during the period when the other is not present any more but the young are not yet capable of capturing prey.”

You’ll have to visit the BBC report to see clips of the A. ferox matriphagy and web-pulsing, but here are some Yellow sac spiderlings doing the former:

So alright, spiders. I was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that you enjoy decorating your webs with rotting insect corpses because you like having freeloaders come and squat in your home. I just figured you were lonely and/or needed someone to verse you in Sonic Racing or something. And I don’t really have a problem with your lady jumping spiders beating each other to death at the drop of a hat, because let’s face it – girls will be girls, amirite? But this is just taking it too far, even by your atrociously low standards.

I mean, how does it work exactly? You’re all sitting around the dinner table like, “Hey Mum, look how many eggs I can fit in my mouth,” and “Do you think Justin Bieber like spiders? I bet he does. He seems nice. Do you think he’s nice? I wonder what he’s having for dinner. I bet it tastes better than these eggs,” when suddenly your mum’s like, “So… who wants part of my abdomen for dessert?”

And you’ll be all, “Wtf, Mum!”

And she’ll be like, “Watch your language.”

And then one of you will be like, “But Mum…” and, “Does this mean I’m going to have to catch the bus to school now?”

And she’ll be all, “Gregory, don’t start. Now excuse yourself from the table and come over here and eat your mother.”

So you’ll reluctantly slink off your chairs and edge towards her, telling each other that you’ll probably be grounded either way, but she’s much less likely to enforce it if you eat her first, and pretty soon she’ll be engulfed. Someone will point out rather sheepishly that it actually doesn’t taste that bad, and before you know it, you’ll be collectively digesting your mum in front of Wizards of Waverly Place.

But then what? What’s a family of inexperienced orphans going to do with no food and no protection from strangers who wouldn’t mind devouring and digesting you in front of the television? I’m sorry to break the news, spiders, but huddling together on your web, contracting nervously in unison, muttering, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die,” isn’t going to solve your problems once the insects and worms figure out what’s really going on.

Guys, you need a more sophisticated plan. And that’s where I come in. But first you’ll need:

* A precocious attitude
* An empty house, preferably in the initial stages of being renovated
* Paint tins
* Rope
* Bricks
* A blow torch
* Staple guns
* Live electrical wires lying in a pool of- –

What? Too complicated? Oh for Christ’s sake, spiders, I was only trying to help. GOD.

Original paper published by Insects Sociaux // Picture from Avec La Vie.

****

Related posts: Assassin Bug, What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen The Jackal?

Way to be a Vegetarian for all the Wrong Reasons, Bagheera Kiplingi

– bec

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Assassin Bug, What Do You Mean You’ve Never Seen The Jackal?

A study from Sydney’s Macquarie University has examined the predatory behaviour of the assassin bug (Stenolemus bituberus), describing for the first time the two distinct attack methods used by this araneophagic (spider-eating) insect. Putting the bugs in contact with five species of web-building spiders, Anne Wignall observed the assassin bugs to use either “stalking” or “luring” tactics to hunt their prey in their webs.

When stalking, the assassin bugs will rely on stealth to reach their prey undetected, severing and stretching the silk threads of the web between itself and the spider, and approaching it with an irregular, bouncing locomotion. Exploiting periods of environmental disturbance (caused by wind, for example), together with the vibrations created by its cryptic stepping movements, the assassin bug creates a kind of “smokescreen” effect to mask its approach.

When luring, however, the assassin bug will manipulate the silk vibrations to deliberately reveal its location on the web and draw the spider to it, plucking the threads to emulate the twitching, panicked movements of ensnared prey for up to twenty minutes. “The spider thinks it’s getting a meal, but instead gets eaten itself,” says Wignall.

Prior to striking and killing the spider when in reach, the assassin bugs were observed to engage in unusual behaviour known as “prey tapping.” The assassin bug will tap its prey from above with its antennae to apparently reduce its ability to respond to the impending attack, Robert Jackson of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya likening its effect to that of hypnotism.

Now this is all very elaborate and apparently successful, but we all know spiders are not that stupid. Lord knows if one asked me to do something, I sure as hell wouldn’t refuse, so they’ve definitely got something there. Plus we all know spiders talk,* which could make life pretty difficult for those assassin bugs I’d imagine. Because you can’t be an assassin if your victims can see you and your wide-open bag of tricks coming, right?

So poor Assassin Bug would finally get an assignment, which is awesome because he’s just been sitting at home doing fuck-all for months because the pickings are slim when there are so many other assassin bugs around. It’s like, “Hey, so I heard an Achaearanea extridium moved in down town?”

“Yeah, Lindsay already picked him off last week.”

Motherfucker.”

He would manage to finish Mass Effect 2 in like 20 hours, sort his entire mp3 library by sub genre and bpm, plus read a bunch of chess endgame books he found under his bed, so it wouldn’t be a total loss, but having not eaten in months, he’ll have spent most of his unemployment either snapping at people on the street who asked him for the time (“Do I look like I can afford a watch? Jesus.”), or passed out in a hungry stupour.

But then his agent (or whatever the guy who organises these things is called) will call him up like, “The Pholcus phalangioides who moved into the Achaearanea extridium’s place…” and the Assassin Bug will be all,

“You serious?!”

“Just hang up.”

“Okay. Sorry.”

He’ll head to the Pholcus phalangioides’ web, knocking off a bystanding snail on the way because it looked at him funny, and then the caterpillar barista who accidentally burnt his coffee because it was the first one he’s been able to afford in forever and he was really looking forward to it. He’ll also kill the terrified kitchen-hand who will try to make him another one but can’t froth the milk properly because he only knows how to wash dishes because he dropped out of high school to be a musician, only to be kicked out of a really shit band after one rehursal because he didn’t know what a chord was.

Then at the Pholcus phalangioides’ web he’ll be plucking and stretching like mad for like ten minutes before Pholcus phalangioides will come over all, “Do you mind? I have to get up early tomorrow. Get the fuck off my web.”

The desperate Assassin Bug will rush over and start tapping him on the head all, “Oooooh…. Oooooh….!”

“Oh my God, Stop it. I’m going back to bed.”

“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”

And the Assassin Bug will look so pathetic that the Pholcus phalangioides will feel sorry for him and be like, “You’ve seen The Jackal, right?”

“The one with Bruce Willis?”

“Yeah.”

“No…?”

“Okay well anyway, there’s this scene with a boombox–”

“A boombox?”

“What.”

“Who the hell calls them boomboxes?”

“Do you want my advice or not?”

“Okay. Sorry.”

“Anyway, there’s this scene with a boombox…”

Then later that night the Pholcus phalangioides will be woken up again, this time by some excessively loud bad techno and he’ll stumble sleepily out of his curled-up dead leaf going, “Oh my god, Assassin Bug, you can’t use my own advice on me! What is the matter with you?”

The next morning the Assassin Bug’s agent (or whatever the guy who organises these things is called) will leave a message on his machine all like, “Why the fuck is that Pholcus phalangioides still alive? Why the fuck didn’t I use one of my other guys? You arsehole. Wait, what is all that racket? What did I tell you kids about raves on my front porch?! Oh, its you. I was just– Uggggh….”

* Which is why you should never kill one unless you want five more to come to their funeral.

Journal of Ethology Paper // New Scientist for the video that inexplicably won’t embed // Top picture from Jeffrey Friedl’s blog

– bec

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Harden the Fuck Up, Dying Temnothorax Unifasciatus

For a recent study published in Current Biology, Jurgen Heinze and Bartosz Walter from the University of Regensburg monitored the behaviour of over a hundred terminally ill ants. By observing 28 Temnothorax unifasciatus colonies containing individuals infected with Metarhizium anisopliae, a contageous, parasitic fungus, they found that these ants instinctively removed themselves from the nest to die in seclusion. As fungus pathogens can be easily spread through contact between infected and healthy individuals, Heinze and Walter suggest that this withdrawal from the colony could be evidence of an innate altruistic trait.

Having treated 70 worker ants with the deadly fungus spores, they recorded the behaviour of the 52 individuals that died within ten days of infection. The eight individuals who died with no evidence of spores notwithstanding, 70% of the infected individuals were observed to withdraw themselves from the nest before expiring. A further 21% were found dead outside the nest, but this happened overnight, so the researchers can’t be sure whether they left voluntarily or were actively removed. There were no observed instances of spore-treated ants being removed or attacked by healthy workers, however.

To refute the alternate theory that this behaviour is caused by pathogen host manipulation, as spores can be dispersed over a wider area when an infected individual ventures away from the nest, 70 uninfected individuals were exposed to 95% carbon dioxide to dramatically accelerate their aging. What Heinze and Walter observed in these moribund ants was the same tendency of social withdrawal prior to death, stating, “Actively leaving the nest and breaking off all social interactions thus occurred regardless of whether the individuals were infected or not.”

During the period leading up to their death, the infected and moribund ants weren’t treated any differently by the healthy workers. They would still engage in both active and passive interactions with their colony until it was time to leave. Once they left, the dying ants would never attempt to return to the nest.

Desert Locust nymph infected by Metarhizium anisopliae

Now while this might seem like an unusually selfless act, I’m willing to bet those dying ants won’t budge until they’ve milked every ounce of sympathy, gratitude, extra helpings of discarded milkshake and so on from the colony first. Or they’ll sulk like mad until they realise no one will miss them and then eventually clear off. But either way, it kind of renders any claim to altruism pretty much void in my books. Like, they’d all be happily marching towards some three-day-old chicken wing, playing whatever the new politically-correct name for Chinese Whispers is, “I have light bulbs made of dirt in my underpants and this email smells like a purple fax machine… LOL!!!!!1!” when one of them suddenly clutches his side all like, “Erm, you guys go ahead, I’ll just be a minute.”

“Dude, that’s not how you fix a stitch, you have to stretch your thorax, not scratch at it.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks…”

But the itching won’t go away, and no amount of, “What? Oh, no it’s really nothing, I just wore some old sweater to bed last night and forgot to use fabric softener so it was wicked itchy. Boy, did I learn my lesson! Guys?” will convince them that he’s not sick and pretty soon the expedition will come to a grinding halt.

“Look man, we all know you’re dying. It’s so obvious. But, you know, we didn’t want to say anything straight away, like, “Dead ant walking! Holy shit, move aside, this guy’s a goner!” because we’re not that heartless. Like, that time when you pretended to be tying your shoelaces when really you were scratching your gaster? We didn’t say anything. But come on, you’re not even wearing any shoes! Anyway, it really is time for you to, erm, “vacate the premises,” so to speak. For the team. You understand…”

And the infected ant will be all, “Oh okay. Fair enough. I don’t want you guys to, you know, die a slow and painful and itchy death like me. It’s cool, I’ll just go away and make a nest somewhere and perish. Alone. Oh, on second thoughts, I’ll probably be too sick and alone to make a nest for myself. I’ll just have to stand out in the cold and wait. For death. It’s supposed to rain tonight, right? That’s okay, I’m just going to die anywa—”

“Okay, sounds good.”

“What? That’s it? I bust my hump every day for this colony and–”

“Ugh. Fine. Does anyone here know this guy and want to say goodbye? Anyone? You there, dude with the big head, you know him?”

And some nervous-looking ant with a bulbous head will suddenly feel hundreds of compound eyes on him as he mutters in a very tiny voice, “What, me? Him? I don’t know, I don’t meet a lot of ants these days and the ones I do meet all look the same…”

Then another ant will pipe up, all like, “Hey weren’t you on that expedition last month where half the workers got stepped on by a labrador and you only got out of it alive because you were trapped in a huge protective bubble of saliva?”

And the infected ant will be like, “Yeah?”

“Thought so. Wait, what? No, no, guys, I don’t really know him. I just know of him. I’m not making a speech or anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”

So the colony will be like, “Well, we tried. We’d get Bighead over there to give you a hug or something, but then he’d probably get infected too, and we kinda need him to help carry that chicken wing back because it’ll probably be heavy. So. You know…”

“What about a brief applause then? Air-kisses? Can you at least bring me back some chicken before I head off? I’ll probably be too weak to find my own food pretty soon…”

“OH MY GOD NO AIR-KISSES JUST FUCKING GO.”

“Alright fine. I’m going. Bunch of ungrateful shits…”

I heard that. Wow. Hate that guy. What an emo.”

“Hey can we get ice cream on the way to the chicken wing?”

“I don’t see why not!”

Original Paper // Not Exactly Rocket Science.

More on ants:

Beware Those Yellow Crazy Ants, Christmas Island White-Eye…

You’re Not God, Desert Ants.

Back To Work, Sleepy Fire Ant!

– bec

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