Slime Balls are Ant Food

Driving down the quiet and dark of the 2, Los Angeles like a glowing fungus peeking over the hills of Glendale, and that crown top tower looks ready to eject its spores any second…

But where are the ants, fearlessly climbing and locking their mandibles? Where is the fungal horn’d spore vector of this city?

Somewhere there are mad ants swaying from the moonlit tips of tall grass…

Sime balls are ant food. When ants eat them, they also eat the cercaria of D. dendriticum. Inside the ants, most of the cercaria encyst in the walls of the abdomen, but one or two migrate to the head and encyst in the subesophageal ganglion, a part of the brain. Here the cercaria transform into another life stage called metacercaria. Unlike the metacercaria left behind in the abdomen, these never become infective. These metacercaria do something else. They drive their hosts mad.

As evening approaches and the air temperature drops, ants infected with D. dendriticum do not return to the colonyalong with their fellow workers. Instead, the infected ants climb to thetops of surrounding grasses, clamp their mandibles into the grass blades,and remain there, immobile, until the morning sun warms them again. When that happens, the ants (at least those who survive) resume their normal behavior—until the following evening.

Temporary insanity. “Temporary” because it lasts only aslong as the sun is down. “Insanity” because the timing of the ants’ indiscretion corresponds exactly to the feeding cycles of the grazing cattle who feed most vigorously during the late evenings and early mornings. But here,the grasses are filled up with mad beings that suffer not from poor toilet training or moral and spiritual turpitude but from an infectious disease. Parasitic madness. Madness with a past and a purpose.

Each night beneath the African moon, crazy ants perch atop the grasses of Nigeria and wait for the cracked molars of hungry cattle to end a mad ritual. When the madness is complete and the ants are finally eaten, D.dendriticum completes its complex life cycle,and the arduous trip from cow to ground to cow closes once more. Inside the cow, digestive juices strip ant from parasite, and while the scene fades to black, life begins again, minus a few crazy ants.

(If great cheese comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California, is this where mad cows come from?)

Don’t worry — it’s just a grape nut, my little fire ant.