Novel Entomopathogenic Parasitism in Anthiudum Cingularum — Dr. Semper Augustus; 0.00002 Ma; 44°51′5″N 34°58′21″E.

Anthidium cingulatum is a solitary bee of the family Megachilidae; endemic to central and eastern europe, northern africa, and the middle east. This species utilizes masonry construction techniques, reinforcing collected mud with fibers gathered from plants, and occupies small gaps in walls. In 2002 a specimen was collected by Dr. Semper Augustus in the crimean peninsula. Curiously the solitary bee was engaging in networked behavior.

Agustus noted in a field journal:

“Having arrived in Crimea in the early spring I traveled for three weeks on foot, along the South-Eastern coast looking for prime specimens of the tuber geophyte Himantoglossum caprinum – the lizard orchid. The delicate blossom emerges only under specific environmental conditions. It appeared too dry to facilitate the blossoms at this point so I decided to wait in Lisne for 5 days and compile my notes from my travels in the mountains.

I endeavored to find a hard wired connection to the servers at FISB so I could transfer some of the precipitation data gathered from the Tanovic Cornice. When I approached Fedor about the possibility of finding an Internet cafe in Lisne he burst into laughter. Still I remained determined. The next day at dawn I borrowed a bicycle, shouldered my bag and rode south to Sudak.

The descent from the hills of Lisne was effortless. After an hour of gentle decline, the road flattened and ahead of me I saw a telephone pole encircled with the sprawling petroleum oil vines of a communication network. I turned down a dirt path to find its source. I should have known from the steady incline that I was heading in the wrong direction.

Following the wire along fences; I glanced nervously at the local livestock nibbling at the delicate cable. I found myself at the top of a small hill, where the wire disappeared into a cluster of boxes at the foot of a large aluminum mesh satellite dish pointed toward the sky. I had in fact found “the source” but not in the sense that I expected.

Dejected, I began the long journey back to town; the spring sun burning into my pasty neckline. I returned once more to the telephone pole where I had abandoned the bike and discovered another branch of the network leading to the south. I followed this, on bike this time, until I reached the town of Sudak.

All at once I came across a brick building surrounded by a gaggle of youths. The sign out front said “Lotus” and had a simple drawing that looked like a mix of the flower and a broadband antenna. A thick mixture of sweat, cigarettes, and smoked meat permeated the air. I descended a few stairs into a darkened room and waited for my eyes to adjust. Two young men sat around a single terminal playing a strange game I’d never seen. In my best Ukrainian I asked them “can I purchase a network connection? I need to do business, no more than one hour” the boys responded quickly with a dismissive tone, too fast for me to understand. The whole time their gaze remained fixed on the monitor. I asked them to repeat slowly, that I did not know the language. The eldest boy turned in his chair and said “no network, local only.” Then added as an afterthought, “you like games?”

I glanced at the screen, and understood the boy's transfixion. The game was unlike any I had seen. There seemed to be no objective, no puzzle, and no progression. Bright flashes of saturated color moved across the screen like waves lapping at a shore. The boys were using keys to sort streams of color, controlling the way they mixed. I was amazed at the fluidity of each passing contour as it lazily drew the outline of a complex undulating space. I sat down next to the boys, my gaze slowly consumed by the display. I found myself leaning ever closer until I had nearly pressed my nose against the screen.

I woke up with a start. One of the young men stood over me with a glass of water. I took it gratefully; pushing myself up against the wall under a window looking out to the sea. The boys had pulled back a curtain – spilling warm light into the room – and gone back to playing their game. An intermittent drip of rusty water plunked into a puddle to my left. My pulse hammered in my head, seemingly in time with the punctuating drips. I had left Fedor’s house in Lisne without having breakfast, and the sun must have been stronger than I knew. With uncertainty, I slowly stood up, bracing myself against the window sill. I stared out at the shimmer of the ocean, barely visible on the horizon. I was reminded of the image on the terminal and waves of nausea crashed over me. I lit a cigarette to quell this feeling; taking a long drag and blowing it out into the salt air.

On the sill– in the focused light cast by a cut-crystal ashtray overflowing with spent butts – I noticed a bee. To my pleasant surprise, it was Anthidum cingulatum, the very bee that pollinates the Himantoglossum caprinum I had been in search of.  At first glance I thought the creature was in the throes of death; its body contorting in a strange dance atypical for a solitary mason bee.

Colony species exhibit this sort of behavior to communicate the location of water and pollen to their peers. I was amused at the thought that in this remote village with a severed network connection that this solitary bee was engaging in networked behavior.

On closer inspection I noticed that in the thorax joints, small fungus had overtaken the bee. I was not familiar with any species of cordyceps which plagued this species. I was immediately excited at the prospect of discovering an emergent parasite on the very bee that pollinated the orchid which I was surveying. With sweaty fingers I fumbled for a specimen tube and gently maneuvered the insect into its plastic chamber. I said a silent goodbye to the creature which surely would not survive long in captivity, and placed the bag in my satchel.

My dismay at a lack of network connection had been replaced with a fervent excitement for this novel discovery. I mounted my borrowed bike and rode back to Fedor’s mountain abode.

Three days later the orchids bloomed. I collected a few samples, took many photographs, but found myself in a fog. The next day I enlisted a friend of Fedor’s to drive me to the nearest airfield in a dilapidated Lada – more rust than paint. From the airfield I used a satellite phone to call FISB headquarters and charter a flight back to Flanders.

On my return to the lab I used a contouring laser to conduct a postexhoumous thoraxial scan of the bee. The infesting parasite exhibited a pileate basidiocarp, dihyphal systems, and a hymenium without hymenial cystidia. This is typical morphology of the genus Trametes. To our surprise, when we captured spores for analysis, we discovered The spores were smooth, hyaline, long-filiform, and septate. This is atypical for the spores of Trametes, which has rough non-dextrinoid spores. Instead we were looking at the entomopathogenic spores of the Cordycipitaceae family.

Eager to share the findings with my colleagues, I uploaded a source folder to the networks at FISB containing a full genetic analysis of the subject as well as a high resolution post-exhoumous thoraxial structured-light-photogrametrograph. Within weeks the information had spread across research databases around the world. After an initial buzz, research resumed, and most of the discussion about the novel Cordycipitaceae was in its potential to breed in farms for pharmaceutical use of the fungus, and that the threat it posed to solitary bee species was inconsequential. Bees that do not engage in socialized colony behavior have a much lower chance of transmitting a parasite.
    I still think about the day I found the poor creature. The smell of the ocean, and stale curtains in that stagnant room. I see the game those boys were playing in my mind when I look at the waves of high intensity laser caress the infested carcass of the bee. Brought into this world to live alone, intrepid little mason. You spent the last few moments in a plastic tube wedged between my notebook and an empty canteen. You will not be forgotten.”

Novel Entomopathogenic Parasitism in Anthiudum Cingularum — Dr. Semper Augustus; 0.00002 Ma; 44°51′5″N 34°58′21″E.

©-0.0001 Ma, FISB.

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