(RepublicanPress.org) – Spanish conquistador and explorer Juan Ponce de León’s name became inextricably connected to the fabled Fountain of Youth after he arrived in 1513 in a previously unexplored area that would later become Florida. Reportedly, he went there in search of the fountain. But, as it turns out, ants might have found the real Fountain of Youth — or Parasite of Youth.
The May 2021 edition of Royal Society Open Science included a bizarre research article about the “[e]xtreme lifespan extension in tapeworm-infected ant[s].” The report details the recent discovery by scientists that German Temnothorax nylanderi ants infected by Anomotaenia brevis tapeworms maintain a youthful appearance and enjoy a lifespan at least three times that of their uninfected companions. While their fellow ants perish after a few months, these parasite-bearing ants can live for years.
However, it gets better. According to scientists, these worker ants live a life of luxury. Instead of working alongside their peers, they lounge around collecting offerings of food from other ants. They maintain the appearance of youth and emit an alluring scent that sparks the adoration of other colony members.
Although the parasitic infection enhances the affected ants’ lifespans, scientists believe the parasites trigger the lifespan extension for their own selfish reasons. The longer their hosts live, the better the odds are that the parasites can complete their development before their host ant perishes.
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