By Tonya Oaks Smith
Dr. Stephen P. Yanoviak, an insect ecologist and professor of biology at UALR, is making waves in the bug world.
He and co-researchers at University of California at Berkeley, University of Oklahoma, and Oregon State University have discovered a parasite that can so dramatically transform the look of its host — an ant — that the ant comes to resemble a juicy red berry, ripe for the picking in the jungles of Central and South America.
Yanoviak and his co-researcher, Robert Dudley of Berkeley, have had their report accepted for publication in the American Naturalist. Scientists say this may be the first example of a lowly parasite being able manipulate the look of a host to such an extent that birds can’t tell the difference between a red berry and an ant.
Two other collaborators participated in the project — ant ecologist Mike Kaspari at the University of Oklahoma and nematode specialist George Poinar Jr. at Oregon State University.
“It’s just crazy that something as dumb as a nematode can manipulate its host … in ways sufficient to convince a clever bird,” the researchers said.