Alabama Wilson and the Zombies of the Crawling Brain

Muse Science Magazine for KidsJuly/August 2020

Alabama Wilson and the Zombies of the Crawling Brain
Alabama Wilson has rocked the scientific world with an amazing discovery.
By Mary Beth Cox

Flashback, 1935:

Young E.O. “Alabama” Wilson explores the sidewalk outside his home. He is entranced by a scurry of lion ants, genus Dorymyrmex. Despite his respect for living creatures, Alabama is overcome by an urge to crush one of the six-legged beasts. He does the deed. For his effort, he is rewarded with a snoot full of a strange smell. Just as from cookies in the oven, the aroma of crushed lion ant stimulates his hungry curiosity. It is Alabama’s first whiff of science, and it promises a taste of high ant-venture.

Fast-forward to 1958:

Now grown up, Alabama Wilson has rocked the scientific world with an amazing discovery. He has uncovered a tantalizing clue to how ants communicate. Ants have a gland located at the base of their stingers. The gland produces a special chemical called a pheromone. Ants use this pheromone to paint invisible trails to food they have found. Other ants pick up the scent of the pheromone and follow the trail to the eats. It is a powerful signal. An ant trail made of one teaspoon of this pheromone could circle Earth 5,000 times!

Alabama’s gut tells him that there are more ant pheromones awaiting discovery. He is obsessed with deciphering the ants’ secret chemical language. He goes on the hunt in pursuit of the fearsome fire ant. Alabama stalks his quarry through cow pastures dotted with the tiny pyramids that are the fire ants’ mounds. Armed with his trusty kitchen strainer, he stakes out the pasture’s streams, bent on capturing the fire ants’ royal flotillas. These are barges of live worker ants transporting their queen downstream to a new home. Alabama scoops, strains, and bottles waterborne fire ants by the thousands.

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July/August 2020