A little bit of curiosity can go a long way, especially if you’re a student.
Just ask Stephen Saltamachia, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette senior majoring in microbiology. While visiting a Lafayette nature reserve, he spotted a carpenter ant queen wandering outside — odd behavior, because ant queens rarely leave their nests.
Saltamachia suspected the queen might be disoriented by a fungus that hijacks insect brains, using them for transport to places where the fungus can thrive. It’s a nice bargain for the fungus, although not so pleasant for the host, which perishes in the process.
Saltamachia’s hunch was right. He had identified a “zombie fungus,” so nicknamed because of its effect on its host. The fungus in question hadn’t been mentioned in major scientific journals in 100 years. Saltamachia’s discovery — or rediscovery — has renewed interest in the fungus and got Saltamachia a mention in Newsweek.
That’s quite a coup for the aspiring biologist, and a credit to UL-Lafayette.
It just shows what an inquiring mind can perceive, even when it turns its attention to something as tiny as a carpenter ant.