It's Friday, Friday, Friday Oooh!

In this month's edition of your friendly neighborhood BIOTA newsletter we've got: 
  • Parasites that turn their hosts into mind-controlled zombies! (Happy belated Halloween!)
  • A fish that hides in a jellyfish as it swims
  • One of our music composers, Torsten
  • What happens to autumn leaves after they're on the ground?
  • How your gut microbiome might respond to Thanksgiving
From spooky Halloween symbiotic stories made reality to microbe cornucopias, we've got 'em all here!
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Emerald Cockroach Wasp (left) and Ophiocordyceps fungus erupting from a parasitized ant (right). Image credits: wikipedia
Emerald Cockroach Wasp (left) and Ophiocordyceps fungus erupting from a parasitized ant (right). Image credits: wikipedia
Mind-manipulating parasites 
There are several parasitic relationships in which one organism manipulates the behavior of the other, basically hijacking the brains of the host to behave in a way that benefits the parasite. On the left, the beautiful Emerald Cockroach Wasp (so shiny!) does super-cool stuff in an amazingly precise way: females sting the cockroach's brain with surgical precision, lay an egg on the cockroach's leg, and then the baby wasp hatches out and eats the cockroach from the inside. For more on this amazing behavior, check out this link!

On the right, the fungus growing out of the ant is called Ophiocordyceps (or a closely related genus). Fungal spores are ingested or land on the insect, and then the fungus grows inside the ant (in this case, probably Camponotus sericeiventris), and alters its behavior such that she finds a high place close to the colony entrance, clamps down on the plant, and waits for death. From this position, the fungus can maximize its chances of raining down spores on the dead host's sisters as they leave the nest. Read more about this fascinating relationships, and some further complications, here!
Young Trevally fish are sometimes seen swimming inside a jellyfish like this. This is likely a parasitic relationship because the Trevally is protected a bit, but the jellyfish is harmed...
Original artwork by Leesa. Check her out her Instagram for more @art_by_lah
BIOTA Vlogs: Torsten Gran-Ruaz
Torsten Gran-Ruez creates music for our episodes! Learn more about him in his intro vlog!

After Leaf-Peeping Season

If you're in certain parts of North America or Eurasia, you might be surrounded by leaves that are changing color and falling to the ground. Have you ever thought about what happens after they fall? Soon after the leaves fall, especially after the first frost, fungi that are part of mycorrhizal associations start to grow little threads-like structures called hyphae, that work their way into the leaves, and start digesting them. Some of these nutrients will stay in the fungi and some will travel through the fungal network, into the roots from where the leaves fell, returning to the tree. Mycorrhizal fungi are part of a mutualism - the fungi contribute nutrients from decaying matter and eroding rock to the tree, and the tree shares some of the sugar water it makes from photosynthesis with the fungi. 
Giving thanks for helpful bacteria

With Thanksgiving around the corner in the U.S., it might be nice to reflect on our mutualistic microorganisms in our digestive system helping us turn our favorite foods into useful nutrients. In the last few years, the rapidly lowering costs of sequencing DNA and other technologies have revolutionized our understanding of our ecosystems within. Check out this article for an introduction to this fascinating and rapidly changing field of study. 
Written by: Helen Cheng and Jesse Czekanski-Moir
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