Nautilus

The Beetle That Eavesdrops on an Ant’s Secret Language

Before noon in the Soconusco region of southern Chiapas, down by the border where Mexico meets Guatemala, the lush, green terrain is rife with bodies in motion. It is an area abutting the Pacific, a vast collection of plantations, most of them growing coffee. Hsun-Yi Hsieh, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, has spent every summer here for the last four years, studying the relationships between four insects that survive by any means necessary among the coffee berry bushes. At the center of the story is a species of ant that has long used a kind of code to secretly communicate with each other. But a crafty beetle has recently evolved the ability to intercept the ant’s messages, giving it a big survival advantage and changing the balance of power in this fascinating pocket of the natural world.

Hsieh and a team of around six scientists make their annual trek to Finca Irlanda, a

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