Here's a freaky Parasite Rex moment for you: an Amazonian nematode makes infected ants swell up to resemble bright red berries, which entices birds to eat them and then spread the nematodes around the jungle:
This bizarre lifecycle of a parasitic nematode, or roundworm, plays out in the high canopy of tropical forests ranging from Central America to the lowland Amazon, according to Robert Dudley, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
"It's just crazy that something as dumb as a nematode can manipulate its host's exterior morphology and behavior in ways sufficient to convince a clever bird to facilitate transmission of the nematode," Dudley said.
"It's phenomenal that these nematodes actually turn the ants bright red, and that they look so much like the fruits in the forest canopy," said co-author Stephen P. Yanoviak, an insect ecologist and assistant professor of biology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who noted that numerous tropical plants produce small red, orange and pink berries. "When you see them in the sunlight, it's remarkable."