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UALR magazine

Spring/Summer 2008 • Vol. springsummer No. 2008

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Discovering a Tricky Parasite

By Tonya Oaks Smith

Dr. Stephen P. Yanoviak, an insect ecologist and professor of biology at UALR, is making waves in the bug world.

Dr. Stephen P. Yanoviak, an insect ecologist and professor of biology at UALR

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.