Paranormal biofantasy: zombie ants, hungry vampires

Paul Raven @ 18-08-2010

I pretty much never talk about the “paranormal romance” or “urban fantasy” tropes here at Futurismic, partly because they rarely say much about the real future in anything more than very vague metaphorical terms (the ubiquity of the shambling undead as a symbol of the subliminal horror of a greying society where the elderly prey on the financial vitality of the young and healthy?), and partly because talking about vampires and zombies and werewolves in the genre blogosphere is a bit like whispering your shopping list in the mosh-pit at a Slayer gig.

But put the roots of those tropes into some sort of scientific context, and I’m all over it like the tribal tattoo on an ass-kicking heroine’s lower back. So, ladies and gentlemen: zombie ants. Zombie ants that have been mind-controlled by a parasitic fungus for nearly fifty million years.

The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.

The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.

The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.

The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a “death grip” around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.

OK, so the fate of rainforest bugs and freaky fungi may not seem all that existentially terrifying, but symbiosis occurs elsewhere – remember toxoplasma, the cat parasite that may (be sure to emphasise the ‘may’) be responsible for human neurotic behaviour patterns?

And in deepest darkest Peru, no one is finding vampirism sparkly and smoulderingly attractive (yet strangely supportive of Christianised notions of sexual abstinence and submissive femininity): swarms of vampire bats are on the rampage, and have attacked more than 500 people. The only immortality that bite is going to give you is a third page sidebar in your local paper as the first person to die of rabies in living memory.


Making Our Future as Better Ancestors

Tom Marcinko @ 02-06-2008

StonehengeIt seems to be the custom for new Futurismic posters to introduce themselves. I don’t see race, sex, age, residence, politics, or preferences. But people tell me I’m a 53-year-old white guy who lives in Arizona, leans to the left, and likes fiction, history, journalism, science, The Loud Family and The New Pornographers, and I believe them.

The birth of yet another niece puts me in mind of Samantha Powers’ recent commencement advice: “Be a good ancestor.” One way to do that might be to start treating the environment as part of the economy, by putting a dollar value on it. A report to the U.N. Commission on Biodiversity estimates that humans do at least $78 billion worth of damage each year, “eating away at our nature capital” through deforestation and pollution. Sobering to consider that about 40% of the world economy is still based on biological products and processes.

In light of the likely first contact with an uncontacted seminomadic Amazon tribe on the borderlands of Brazil and Peru, we probably need to factor cultural diversity into the equation, too. There’s something poignant and human about that AP photo of tribespeople firing arrows at an aircraft.

Think about all our ancestors have done for us. The origin and purpose of Stonehenge is no longer a total mystery, according to recent investigations: it served as a cemetary for at least 500 years beginning 5,000 years ago. It may have functioned for 20 or 30 generations as the resting place of a ruling dynasty. At least 300 surrounding homes made it one of the largest villages in northwestern Europe.

Ancestor-worship as big business? If that’s not old enough for you, consider a 375-million-year-old ancestor called the placoderm fish, with a fossil embryo attached with an umbilical cord. It’s the oldest known instance of live birth. Now think what our moms put up with, bringing us into the world. [Image by Danny Sullivan]


Mysterious Peruvian meteor illness solved

Stephen Years @ 25-09-2007

meteor_peru.jpg
Photograph by Miguel Carrasco/La Razon/Reuters

Exactly one week ago I wrote a post about the meteor strike in Peru that made the local residents near the impact crater sick. Being the science fiction fan that I am, I immediately began coming up with worst case scenarios: galactic plague; interstellar biological first strike; zombie inducing spores; etc. Well, it turns out that there is a perfectly benign explanation:

The illness was the result of inhaling arsenic fumes, according to Luisa Macedo, a researcher for Peru’s Mining, Metallurgy, and Geology Institute (INGEMMET), who visited the crash site. The meteorite created the gases when the object’s hot surface met an underground water supply tainted with arsenic, the scientists said. Numerous arsenic deposits have been found in the subsoils of southern Peru, explained Modesto Montoya, a nuclear physicist who collaborated with the team.


Peruvian villagers become sick after meteor strike

Stephen Years @ 18-09-2007

Villagers in Southern Peru became sick with a mystery illness last Saturday after a meteor struck nearby. The villagers complained of headaches and vomiting caused by a strange odor. Several police officers also became sick while investigating the impact. Rescue teams and experts were dispatched to the scene, where the meteorite left a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide) and 20-foot-deep (six-meter-deep) crater.

One can not help but think of Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain.

UPDATE

Via the BBC:

An engineer from the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute told the AFP news agency no radiation had been detected from the crater and ruled out the fallen object being a satellite.

Renan Ramirez said: “It is a conventional meteorite that, when it struck, produced gases by fusing with elements of the terrain.”

The gases are believed to have affected the health of about 600 people who visited the site.