Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Attack of the zombie ants

In the latest episode of "Science gone mad (but in a cool way):"

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reported Monday that a new strategy is being used to combat that all-too common Texas pest, the fire ant -- turning them into zombies whose heads fall off.

Apparently, fire ants are "The mean bastards of the ant world," and cause huge amounts of carnage. As stated in an Associated Press story, "The biting, territorial fire ants cost the Texas economy about $1 billion annually by damaging electrical equipment, according to a Texas A&M study. They can also threaten young calves."

Scientists are combating the six-legged red scourge by introducing phorid flies, natives of South America. Per the Star-Telegram: "The flies "dive-bomb" the fire ants and lay eggs. The maggot that hatches inside the ant eats away at the brain, and the ant starts exhibiting what some might say is zombie-like behavior."

With no brain, the ant wanders aimlessly for about two weeks, at which point the maggot emerges as a fly, then looks for new ants to lay eggs on.

Sounds good, but is anyone worried that this might take on echoes of The Simpsons episode "Bart the Mother," where some imported lizards, to the delight of the public, eliminate Springfield's pigeon problem, but then become a nuisance themselves? Principal Skinner comes up with a plan to then bring in lizard-eating snakes, then snake-eating gorillas to take care of them, and then "winter will take care of the rest."