June 19, 2015

Wild parsnip with ants.

IMG_0446

Don't touch it. And not just because of the ants:
There are chemicals in wild parsnip called psoralens (precisely, furocoumarins) that cause what dermatologists call "phyto-photo-dermatitis." That means an inflammation (itis) of the skin (derm) induced by a plant (phyto) with the help of sunlight (photo). When absorbed by skin, furocoumarins are energized by ultraviolet light (present during sunny and cloudy days) causing them to bind with nuclear DNA and cell membranes. This process destroys cells and skin tissue, though the reaction takes time to produce visible damage.

23 comments:

chickelit said...

Ants' abdomens are rich in formic acid. The Latin name for ant is "formica." This is tangentially related to countertop formica.

"Formic" is a synonym for things ant-related as well as the root word for formic acid, formaldehyde, formyl, etc.

Antacid is a chemical antonym for acid, and an antidote for indigestion.

mikee said...

The aliens in Ender's Game were called Formics by the humans.

Sorry, that's all I got.

Roughcoat said...

The earth is trying to destroy us. Does Pope Francis know about this?

Leslie Graves said...

It comes from a bad urge inside of the wild parsnips.

gerry said...

Antacid is a chemical antonym for acid, and an antidote for indigestion.

So, formic acid is really ant acid?

rhhardin said...

Formication.

rhhardin said...

A baby Robin I was raising would pounce on worms and bugs but not ants.

Fernandistein said...

"Wild parsnip with ants."

On the shorts-wearing "foodies" menu.

chickelit said...

"Formication" -- le mot du jour. It reminds me of an old Betamax3000 chirbit: link

Captain Ned said...

Genesis - "The Return of the Giant Hogweed". The song even uses the proper Latin name for the plant, i.e. Heracleum Mantegazziani.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heracleum_mantegazzianum

tim in vermont said...

All I can say is don't brush hog those things without a haz mat suit complete with breathing apparatus.

Quaestor said...

So, formic acid is really ant acid?

Bingo. Ant venom is largely formic acid. Most ants use their stringers to kill prey. The fractions that are immediately lethal are various protein-based toxins which attack the nervous system. The role of formic acid is still a matter of research, but one hypothesis is the acid serves as a preservative. Ants are opportunistic predators rather than active hunters, which means that sometimes there's a superabundance of food that would be useful if stored. Injecting formic acid into the carcasses of their prey may retard decomposition. Some ants use formic acid as a defensive deterrent. Instead of injecting the acid, these ants spray it. Those tiny brown home-invading ants we often call "piss ants" produce a characteristically unpleasant smell, especially if you disturb them. That odor is formic acid.

chickelit said...

Injecting formic acid into the carcasses of their prey may retard decomposition.

That's quite an "undertaking" for mere ants!

Quaestor said...

It would be interesting to known what those ants are up to. If you look at the enlarged picture it seems that the ants are harvesting nectar from the parsnip flowers. Being over-all black and shiny suggests the ants are Camponotus laevigatus, the giant carpenter ant, which is a common species east of the Rockies and north into Canada. C. laevigatus is a really big ant, though, over a centimeter. Another common but smaller black ant is Camponotus pennsylvanicus, the black carpenter ant, but theses are dull black rather than shiny, about 5mm long. Carpenter ants usually don't visit flowers. Mostly they forage for food on the ground for seeds and on logs where beetle larvae are found. If they are Camponotus it would be interesting to document this behavior.

If these ants are small (say, 5 to 6 millimeters) there's a possibility that they are Lasius niger, the black garden ant, which is common in Europe, but rare in North America. L. niger ants are shiny black. They are also mutualistic with aphids, so instead of gathering nectar these ants my be tending aphids that are too small to seen in the photo.

Quaestor said...

Fixed typo from my previous comment: They are also mutualistic with aphids, so instead of gathering nectar these ants may be tending aphids that are too small to seen in the photo.

chickelit said...

Grapefruit (especially pink grapefruit) is high in furocoumarins. Those molecules apparently interfere with numerous prescription medicines in what is known as the grapefruit juice effect.

That is too bad because grapefruit is a unique flavor and makes a good cocktail flavor, for example 1 part grapefruit juice, one part St. Germaine liqueur, and three parts gin.

Quaestor said...

I encountered a notation about grapefruit in context of researching a drug last week (not for me, the GF's mother who has cancer). I thought How odd, that grapefruit thing, but I didn't pursue because grapefruit isn't a feature in that household, at least they've never given me any. It's more Althouse synchronicity at work. Too bad Jung is dead or I'd send him a tweet.

Try grapefruit with a few dashes of angostura on top, btw.

Quaestor said...

My mother used to make candied grapefruit peel as a treat. I really miss that sharply bitter tang coupled with the sweetness.

Quaestor said...

Althouse's parsnip ants are definitely not Camponotus vicinus mayr, which are twelve feet long and eat FBI agents.

Rusty said...

Happy Juneteenth to all our black brothers and sisters.
Never again.

Danno said...

These plants (wild parsnips) are very common near Madison, as I have played a disc golf course with my kids named Vallarta-Ast Disc Golf Course at Token Creek County Park, which is chock full of wild parsnips. They even have warning signs concerning the wild parsnips.

Quaestor said...

wild parsnip warning sign

Wisconsin wild parsnip article

It appears that the wild parsnip (the root is edible, btw) is an invasive species. This site is authored by someone who is trying to eradicate wild parsnips on her property by pulling them up.

HT said...

Lots of plants irritate the skin, I wonder how much more irritating this plant is than most. Just searched. Yikes, the stuff is pretty bad!

Psoralen - psor means to itch, think (psorasis).

And yet:
"a compound present in certain plants that is used in perfumery and (in combination with ultraviolet light) to treat psoriasis and other skin disorders. • A tricyclic lactone; chem. formula: C 11 H 6 O 3."