HBM098: Feed the Queen

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The Victoria Bug Zoo is home to dozens of species of insects and arachnids, and two leaf cutter ant colonies.

There's the new colony, with a three year old queen whose kingdom grows every day. If all goes well, she is expected to live to the age of fifteen, laying an egg approximately every three seconds. Her colony is teaming with a healthy population of soldiers, gardeners, and foragers with the potential to reach more than a million ants. There is a constant stream of activity; the soldiers patrol the tunnels to keep the queen and colony safe, the foragers trek back and forth retrieving leaves for the gardeners who busily chew the leaves into substrate.

Leaf cutter ants don't actually eat the leaves they cut down. Instead, they use chewed up leaves to build nurseries for the hatchlings, and to grow fungus gardens. The fungus produces a nectar, and that's what everyone eats. These ants have farmed and domesticated this fungus for many millions of years, long before humans discovered agriculture. This special relationship is called “mutualism”.

The second ant colony -- the old colony -- is not a robust as the first. At thirteen, almost fourteen years old, the old queen recently passed away. In fact, Bug Zoo tour guide Ash Bessant discovered ants dragging dismembered parts of her body to the ant graveyard as HBM producer Bethany Denton was interviewing him.

From: Ants! Natures Secret Power A giant ant colony is pumped full of concrete, then excavated to reveal the complexity of its inner structure.

According to Ash, some of the ants continue to try feeding and cleaning the queen even after she’s died. Without a queen to lay eggs, the colony population will eventually dwindle and die out.

Can’t get enough leaf cutter ants? We recommend the 2013 BBC documentary Planet Ant: Life Inside the Colony

Bethany Denton produced this episode, with editing help from Jeff Emtman. Nick White is our editor at KCRW, and Kristen Lepore is our manager at KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.

Music:  The Black Spot   |||    Serocell


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HBM081: Kinnikinnick Nick VS The Bear

Content Advisory:
- Language
- Drug use

We've changed the way we denote explicit material.   The above box gives information on an episode's content.  This system better than the previous one, though far from perfect, so please use discretion. 

  

Boy Scout Leadership Camp was a bad fit for Jeff Emtman.  He was a meek 13 year old who didn’t eat meat and talked to animals with his mind.

Regardless, Jeff wound up in the dry forests of Eastern Washington, with a group of other boys and a young scout leader, Nick, whose leadership style was...let’s just call it “eclectic”.

Nick was rarely around, and when he did show up, he’d impart scouting wisdom on building giant towers, making drug paraphernalia, and pooping in the woods.  It was Nick’s lesson on plant identification that earned him the nickname “Kinnikinnick Nick”.  He browbeat the virtues of smoking the dried leaves Bearberry, a plant that grew wild across camp.  He claimed the plant an intoxicant similar to LSD.  Nick also sold weed.

As the camp’s middle management wised to Nick’s dealings, they slowly sowed the seeds of conspiracy into the minds of the Jeff and the other campers.  And the middle management prepared for a late-night sting.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode, along with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music:  The Black Spot


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