How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds

To find the world’s most sinister examples of mind control, don’t look to science fiction. Instead, go to a tropical country like Brazil, and venture deep into the jungle. Find a leaf that’s hanging almost exactly 25 centimeters above the forest floor, no more and no less. Now look underneath it. If you’re in luck, you might find an ant clinging to the leaf’s central vein, jaws clamped tight for dear life. But this ant’s life is already over. And its body belongs to Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus.

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of … Read the rest

Galactic Glow, Thought to Be Dark Matter, Now Hints at Hidden Pulsars

In 2009, Dan Hooper and his colleagues found a glow coming from the center of our galaxy that no one had ever noticed before. After analyzing publicly available data from the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, a satellite launched a year earlier, the team concluded that the center of the Milky Way was radiating more gamma rays than astrophysicists could account for.

The finding was so unexpected that, at the time, few believed that it was real. It didn’t help that Hooper wasn’t a member of the Fermi collaboration, but rather an outsider picking over the data that the Fermi team made public. One of the scientists working on Fermi called his work “amateurish,” arguing that Hooper simply didn’t know how to properly interpret the data.… Read the rest

The Prison Guard with a Gift for Cracking Gang Codes – Facts So Romantic

Former correction officer Gary Klivans doesn’t want to be photographed more clearly for fear of gang retaliation.Gary Klivans

As a corrections officer at a Westchester County, N.Y., prison in the 1990s, Gary Klivans was a one-man gang unit. Members of The Latin Kings and the Bloods made up a sizable part of the prison population. Klivans learned quickly that to handle them, he needed to understand them, and that meant understanding the code they used to communicate. Klivans taught himself to decipher their messages. He became one of the most sought-after code-breakers in the country. (Also see the related Facts So Romantic post, “View From the Inside: How Gang Members Use Secret Codes.”)

Even in retirement, his skills are in demand: Klivans sifts … Read the rest

Global Warming Really Did Make Hurricane Harvey More Likely

Think of the Earth’s climate system as a pair of dice. You never know exactly how a roll will end. But some outcomes, like rolling a seven, are much more likely than others, like snake eyes. But when we warm the globe, we essentially load the dice to favor extreme outcomes, including some of the most unpleasant weather possible in the United States.

A new study, rapidly conducted in September and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that the dice are increasingly likely to roll some very unpleasant weather indeed. Global warming may not have caused Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston over the course of a week earlier this year, but it made it much more likely.

The … Read the rest