"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum."
- Jonathan Swift

February 27, 2010

February 27 - Myrmeconema neotropicum

Yesterday, the parasite was saving coffee berries, today the parasite is making ants look like berries. Myrmeconema neotropicum is another nematode parasite that infects the ant, Cephalotes atratus in South America. The life cycle is somewhat similar to that of yesterday's parasite. Foraging ants pick up the nematode's eggs which have been shed in bird feces and feed them to their larvae. Inside the ant pupa, the worms hatch, mature and mate. As the embryos inside the female nematode mature, the gaster, or abdomen of the ant, swells and goes from being black, to translucent, to bright red. Adult ants then walk around with bright red abdomens held up into the air and are also slower and "clumsier" - perfect targets for frugivorous birds. The species, described in 2008, also changed the taxonomy of the ant hosts. Over a century before, a variety of tropical ants had been described based on their unusual red abdomens. We now know that they were just parasitized individuals. Makes me wonder how many other "species" have been erected based on parasite-induced morphological changes...

Image from figure of the paper.

You can read the original paper here.

1 comment:

  1. How can no one have anything to say. I personally am worried and my abdomen is red and all swelled up. Birds won't leave me alone. I need to stop eating bird feces.

    -Nekrobomb Jones (Minkstereo.com)