Antbirds spotted

September 25th, 2012

Natalie Angier on army ants and their parasites:

[Wherever…] there are army ants out on a hunting raid, peckish antbirds are almost sure to follow.

The birds are not foolish enough to try to eat them: Army ants are fiercely mandibled and militantly cohesive. Instead, they hope to skim off a percentage of the ants' labor, by snatching up any grasshoppers, beetles, spiders or small lizards that may jump to the side in a frantic attempt to elude the oncoming avalanche of predatory ants.

It's a gleeful reversal of the conventional notion of parasites as little, ticky things that plague large, poorly dressed hosts. Here the big vertebrates are the parasites, freeloading off insects a fraction of their size. […]

Fun and frightening as the army ants are, the real stars are the birds. Angier explains that the antbirds' behaviour is in flux. Over time, as the populations of the various species of antbird fluctuate, scientists are observing how species are changing their behaviour in order to take advantage of the opportunities that open up. Fascinating stuff.

[Via The Awl]

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Thirsty

September 15th, 2011

Thirst by Vadim Trunov.

[Via oilygrrl, posting to James Nicoll's LiveJournal]

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1.6 million? 1.6 MILLION!

August 4th, 2010

Scary statistic of the day:

The Lord God first divided the darkness from the light. Then he divided the heavens from the earth and the earth from the sea. Evolution did the rest: It divided the earth between humans and ants, and in so doing created another fundamental dichotomy. There are billions of humans on earth, and trillions upon trillions of ants – an estimated 1.6 million for every human being. If the earth were a scale, and all the humans were placed on one side and all the ants on the other, it would not budge. Ants have answered the ever-expanding human biomass with an ever-expanding biomass of their own, so that the planet is poised, teetering between its two most successful civilizations – each of which is social, aggressive, expansionist, and well suited for war.

(Emphasis added)

[Via kottke.org]

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