Zombie Ants

The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists.

The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m years ago.

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. [cont]

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Double Dip Fun Time

Outsourced to Ryan Avent:

DAVID BECKWORTH directs us to the latest Macroeconomic Advisers estimates of American output, and he publishes this disturbing chart:

Macroeconomic Advisers estimates a monthly GDP figure, and according to their calculations nominal GDP declined in May and June. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a full-on double dip has begun. Monthly GDP is noisy, and Macroeconomic Advisers notes:

Monthly GDP declined 0.4% in June, the second consecutive monthly decline of this magnitude. The May decline was accounted for by inventory investment, while the June decline was more than doubly accounted for by net exports. Over this two-month span, domestic final sales posted moderate gains, largely reflecting growth of consumer spending. The level of monthly GDP in June was 1.5% below the second-quarter average at an annual rate.  Our forecast of 2.4% growth of GDP in the third quarter includes a 1.1% increase in monthly GDP in July, mainly reflecting an assumed reversal of the weakness in net exports in June.

They’re still forecasting growth in the third quarter. But this is disconcerting. And the Fed response to a potential decline in NGDP—merely holding the size of its balance sheet steady—is clearly inadequate.

This is, in case you were wondering, very bad. I’m glad everyone’s mind is focussed on what is important.