A spooky guest post, courtesy of Dr. Arthropods-in-Your-Home, Matt Bertone.

Just in time for that horrific (and surprise-filled) time of year, here’s a dracula ant (Amblyoponinae: Stigmatomma pallipes) I found slowly wandering around under a log in my front yard.

A dracula ant (Stigmatomma pallipes) caught in Matt's front yard. Photo credit: Matt Bertone

These ants are specialist predators on soil arthropods (specifically centipedes) that also sometimes feed on the body fluids (hemolymph) of their own larvae. You read that right…they drink the blood of their babies! This isn’t for evil pleasure, but helps feed the ants (especially queens) when prey is scarce. This type of vampirism (called nondestructive cannibalism) does not harm the young who will grow up to become predators with a nasty sting and a taste for blood!

A dracula ant sinking her sting deep into the head capsule of a centipede. Photo credit: Alex Wild

Thinking about Halloween also reminds me of zombies, and they certainly exist in the insect world. Many types of organisms take over insects and other arthropods to control them for a purpose. Some parasitic fungi make a fly (here a cluster fly, Calliphoridae: Pollenia, itself a parasite of earthworms) climb up to a high, exposed point. There the pathogen bursts out of the host’s body, spreading its spores to other hosts. The lifeless insect exoskeleton can be found giving a true ‘death grip’ to leaves, twigs, or walls – the only evidence of the invasion being the burst open body full of fungal infection.

A cluster fly zombie with body blown open by a parasitic fungus. Photo credit: Matt Bertone

Well, sleep tight this All Hallows’ Eve – and be glad you are not an insect!

Matt Bertone is an entomologist with a life-long passion for all things creepy and strange. He has been especially interested in insects, arachnids and reptiles, but becomes enthralled in a new group of organisms just about every day. Matt enjoys graphic design, photography, music, and video games… when he’s not poking around the dusty, dark corners of your house in search of arthropods.