Florida Is Home to 'Skull-Collecting' Ants, Because Florida

Florida’s Formica archboldi ants are not to be messed with. As Newsweek reports, a North Carolina-based researcher recently discovered that the species applies a waxy coat to its body to chemically mimic its intended prey, a kind of trap-jaw ant in the genus Odontomachus. Then, the predator sprays its unsuspecting prey with acid to immobilize it and drags it back to its underground lair, where it dismembers the body and presumably eats everything but the hollowed-out heads.

The Florida ant’s habit of letting the heads pile up in its nest has earned it a pretty grisly nickname: the “skull-collecting ant.” This behavior has been observed since the 1950s. However, scientists have only recently learned how the Florida ant manages to kill trap-jaw ants, which are formidable predators in their own right (they can snap their jaws shut at speeds of over 100 miles an hour).

Researcher Adrian Smith, head of the Evolutionary Biology & Behavior Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, observed the F. archboldi ants mimicking trap-jaw ants at the chemical level by coating their bodies in the same waxy substance that covers their prey. Smith says they’re probably disguising themselves, but the extent to which they do so isn’t yet known.

The ants were also seen shooting formic acid from their abdomens to render the trap-jaw ants motionless. The new findings were published in the journal Insectes Sociaux, and Smith even captured the gruesome action on camera, which you can check out in the video below.

Smith says he’s been fascinated with the ants—which are also found in parts of Alabama and Georgia—since he was an undergrad student at Florida State.

“They’re one of the most badass ants I know of. That’s why I wanted to study them—they decorate their nests with skulls,” Smith told The Verge. “A lot of other ants do cool things, but these are special to me because they’re from Florida, and I’m from Florida."

[h/t Newsweek]

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

The Disabled Chihuahua Puppy Who Befriended a Flightless Pigeon Now Has a Tiny Wheelchair

Lundy, the Chihuahua, and his pigeon friend, Herman.
Lundy, the Chihuahua, and his pigeon friend, Herman.
HandicappedPets.com, YouTube

The only thing more heartwarming than an interspecies friendship between a Chihuahua that can’t walk and a pigeon that can’t fly is if the Chihuahua in question happened to own a very tiny wheelchair.

Earlier this month, The Mia Foundation, a nonprofit shelter for special needs animals in Rochester, New York, took to Facebook to share photos of Lundy, a two-month-old Chihuahua without mobility in his back legs, snuggling up with a flightless pigeon named Herman.

"I took Herman out of his playpen to give him some time out and I put him in a dog bed and then I had to tend to Lundy so I put Lundy in with him,” Sue Rogers, who runs the foundation with her husband, Gary, told WHEC. “They just looked really cute together, so I took some pictures and posted them to Facebook and the next morning it was crazy.”

After the post went viral, The Mia Foundation received more than $6000 in monetary donations—and a surprise gift for Lundy. New Hampshire-based pet mobility company Walkin’ Pets provided him with a Mini Walkin’ Wheels wheelchair, a two-wheeled harness meant for disabled animals that weigh between two and 10 pounds. According to a press release from Walkin’ Pets, the shelter had been worried that two-pound Lundy, who could probably fit in the palm of your hand, wouldn’t get the chance to run around with the help of a wheelchair until he grew quite a bit bigger.

lundy the disabled chihuahua with his wheelchair
Lundy patiently waits to try out his new wheelchair.
Walkin' Pets

Newly mobile and even cuter than before, Lundy is now waiting for a kind family to adopt him. Finding a forever home might take him away from his fine feathered friend, but Lundy and Herman’s bond won’t ever be forgotten: There’s now a book called Lundy and Herman that tells their story. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Mia Foundation, and you can order it for $20 here.

[h/t WHEC]

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