An ant of the enigmatic Mystrium species. These Dracula ants are known for sucking the blood of their young.
Ticks resemble little bumps on skin, but a closer look reveals the barbed mouthpart (hypostome) that's inserted in human flesh and can't easily slip out. Dania Richter of the Technical University of Braunschweig watched, under very high magnification, ticks using other mouthparts to pierce skin, generating “a toehold,” before a breaststroke-like action pulled in the barbed hypostome. The study is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
S. Turner, UC Riverside
This scanning electron micrograph image of a southern house mosquito (foreground) makes evident the straw-like mouthpart used to suck human -- and other -- blood. The red and black additions highlight smelling activity. It’s believed that a mosquito can smell a person from 100 feet away.
Spiders in the genus Loxosceles, including the brown recluse, are among the few common spiders whose bites can seriously hurt people. Greta Binford, an associate professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College, recently studied the spiders, including the one shown here from South America. The spider bites can cause our skin to die. "Our bodies are basically committing tissue suicide," she explained. "That can be very minor to pretty major, like losing a big chunk of skin. The only treatment in that case is usually to have a skin graft done by a plastic surgeon."
Older workers within a rainforest termite species,
, have built-in “explosive backpacks” that become bigger and more deadly over time. The blue in this image -- showing several workers and a soldier termite -- is actually a sack of toxic blue liquid. Jan Šobotnik at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague found that worker termites could explode this toxin onto enemies during suicide missions that help their colonies.
Entomologist Michael Caterina and his team studied clown beetles, which munch on fly larvae found in decomposing bodies He snapped this shot, which shows one such beetle’s mandibles. It’s apparently a bug-eat-bug world, even in the remains of the deceased.
Slimy slugs are the bane of gardeners, but a recently discovered slug species makes others seem tame. The ‘ghost slug,’ found in Cardiff, Wales, lives on land, is carnivorous and possesses blade-like teeth. It’s out all year round -- not just on Halloween.
Sam Droege, Flickr
This fly was photographed after it became stuck in a glob of hand sanitizer, so it was likely frozen in this image seconds before its demise. The photo reveals the fly’s compound eyes, which have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom. The tongue-like proboscis is also sticking out.
Leeches are predominantly bloodsuckers that feed on blood from humans and other animals. When leeches bite into a victim, their saliva prevents blood from clotting, causing victims to bleed from the wound for hours. The good news is that this effect has beneficial microsurgery applications, such as helping doctors reattach tiny veins.
David Hughes, Penn State University
The zombie-ant fungus invades an ant’s brain, causing the insect to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony. The fungus winds up the winner, since it then erupts via spores that come out of the ant’s head. A parasitic fungus, however -- the white and yellow material in this image -- can castrate the zombie-ant fungus, allowing the ant to live.
Linda Tanner, Flickr
Photographer Linda Tanner spotted this black widow spider in an old, dark barn, heading for a front porch. Black widows are very common, and are often found in garage door slats, hiding in dark corners, under woodpiles and in other places in and around homes. Usually they mind their own business, focusing on their insect prey, but their venom can cause human victims to experience nausea, muscle aches and paralysis of the diaphragm, which can lead to breathing difficulties.
Six new species of a mysterious blood-sucking ant have been identified in Madagascar -- and they're an especially odd bunch.
The so-called Dracula ants, described today (March 31) in the journal ZooKeys, seem to defy many of the normal rules that scientists use to classify ants.
"The genus Mystrium is the most mysterious group within the bizarre Dracula ants," study co-author Masashi Yoshimura, a researcher at the California Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. "Mystrium was a difficult group to identify because of the remarkable variation within each species."
The new species include the Mystrium labyrinth, the Mystrium mirror and the Mystrium shadow. [Mind Control: See Photos of Zombie Ants]
Dracula ants, so named because they suck the blood of their young in a process dubbed "nondestructive cannibalism," were first discovered in a rotting log in Madagascar more than a decade ago.
But for years, these weird insects confounded researchers, as looks can be deceiving for the Dracula ants.
"The role of an individual in a colony is not always obvious by its appearance. Ants that look similar may be minor workers in one species but queens in another species," study co-author Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.
For instance, the workers sometimes become queen ants; the queens may have short, nonexistent or large wings; and the queens can often be smaller than the workers. In addition, the genus had three different modes of reproduction, making classification even more difficult.
After collecting and scrutinizing thousands of the ants in Madagascar for two decades, Yoshimura and Fisher figured out a method for distinguishing new species.
It turned out the ants start out as either a male, a large queen or a major or minor worker, Yoshimura said. Though some of the workers may then go on to reproduce or even become queens, identifying the species requires knowing these origin states, not the current role, of the ant. Classifying them also requires understanding their reproductive style.
Using this new framework, the researchers were able to reclassify several existing species and identify six completely new ones.
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In Photos: The Wacky Animals of Madagascar
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