In the meadows of Europe, colonies of industrious team-workers are being manipulated by a master slacker.
The layabout in question is the Alcon blue butterfly (Maculinea alcon) a large and beautiful summer visitor. Its victims are two species of red ants, Myrmica rubra and Myrmica ruginodis.
The Alcon blue is a ‘brood parasite’ – the insect world’s equivalent of the cuckoo. David Nash and European colleagues found that its caterpillars are coated in chemicals that smell very similar to those used by the two species it uses as hosts.
To ants, these chemicals are badges of identity and the caterpillars smell so familiar that the ants adopt them and raise them as their own. The more exacting the caterpillar’s chemicals, the higher its chances of being adopted.
The alien larvae are bad news for the colony, for the ants fawn over them at the expense of their own young, which risk starvation. If a small nest takes in even a few caterpillars, it has more than a 50% chance of having no brood of its own.
That puts pressure on the ants to fight back and Nash realised that the two species provide a marvellous case study for studying evolutionary arms races.
Theory predicts that if the parasites are common enough, they should be caught in an ongoing battle with their host, evolving to become more sophisticated mimics, while the ants evolve to become more discriminating carers.
These insects make a particularly good model for such arms races because their geographical ranges overlap in a fractured mosaic.
Alcon blues lay their eggs on the rare marsh gentian plant and it’s there that they first grow before being adopted by a foraging ant. Both gentians and butterflies are rare but the ants are common, meaning that only a small proportion of colonies are ever parasitized.
The result is a series of evolutionary hotspots where the two species wage adaptive war against each other in contrast to the many coldspots where colonies never encounter the deceptive butterflies.
Scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur that belonged to the same family as Tyrannosaurus rex.
The remains of the long-snouted tyrannosaur, formally named Qianzhousaurus sinensis and nicknamed Pinocchio rex, were found near the city of Ganzhou in southern China. Researchers believe the animal was a fearsome carnivore that lived more than 66 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period.
The bones were discovered on a construction site by workmen who took them to a local museum.
Experts from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and the University of Edinburgh then became involved in examining the remains.
With an elongated skull and long, narrow teeth, the predator would have looked very different from a T rex, which had thick teeth and more powerful jaws.
Palaeontologists had been uncertain about the existence of long-snouted tyrannosaurs.
Previously, just two fossilised tyrannosaurs with elongated heads had been found, and since they were juveniles it was unclear whether they were from a new class of dinosaur or simply at an early growth stage.
It is thought that Qianzhousaurus sinensis lived alongside other tyrannosaurs but would not have been in direct competition with them, since they probably hunted different prey.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh said the new specimen was of an animal nearing adulthood. It was found largely intact and “remarkably well preserved”.
The 200,000 square feet of glass in the Minnesota Vikings’ $1 billion stadium has been deemed a “death trap” for birds by the Minnesota Audubon Society.
The society has called for glazed glass to be used in the project — at a cost of $1.1 million — to help avoid bird strikes.
The stadium will open in 2016 and will host the 2018 Super Bowl.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority says it doesn’t have the budget to add the glazed glass, but will work with the society on other means to avoid bird strikes, including dimming stadium lights at night.
There are a number of reasons why birds collide with windows, especially those on tall, well-lit buildings in rainy or foggy weather at night.
Birds don’t understand the idea of reflection and attempt to fly into the landscape they see, according to the Audubon Society, and instead hit the glass.
Birds also fly into windows as they attempt to escape from predators.
At home, bird strikes can be avoided by using window decals or screens to reduce the effect of the reflection and by turning off lights near windows at night.