In the latest evidence that nature is a nightmare world of chaos and hostility, a species of Japanese caterpillar is using pheromones to brainwash ants into becoming their mindless slave bodyguards.
The research from Japan’s Kobe University dispelled the notion that ants and oakblue butterfly caterpillar’s were engaged in a mutual exchange of goods for services, as was previously assumed. Scientists thought ants guarded the caterpillars in exchange for a sugary chemical secretion. Then researchers noticed it was always the exact same ants working as bodyguards. A variety of ants would be attracted if they were only after food.
In findings published in Current Biology, researchers found that a compound in the caterpillar’s secretion, mixed with visual signals, actually zombified the ants. The victims abandon the nest and spend the rest of their lives at the caterpillars side. Far from mutual, there’s little upside here for the ants.
Researchers told UPI the findings were good reason to reexamine other relationships in nature thought to be mutually beneficial but which may actually be the result of chemical dependency. Somewhere, Werner Herzog shrugs.