"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

January 30, 2011

Allomermis solenopsi

It seems that ants just can't get a break when it comes to parasites. When they are not being persuaded to clamp themsleves to the top of a grass blade for a nightly sacrificial ritual (Dicrocoelium dendriticum), they are doing impersonations of a juicy berry thanks to some worms in their gut (Myrmeconema neotropicum). Today's parasite adds to the insult and takes its ant host for an impromptu swim, then leaves it to drown. Allomermis solenopsi is a nematode from the Mermithidae family, a group of nematodes which have plagued insects for at least 40 million years. While they superficially resemble nematomorph hairworm (e.g. Spinochordodes tellinii) and have a similar life-cycle, these worms actually belong in a separate phylum. However, the mermithid nematodes have convergently evolved the same ability as the hairworms to manipulate their hosts - namely, taking the host for a suicidal trip to the pool. Allomermis solenopsis develops inside the gaster (abdomen) of the ant and when it reaches maturity, it needs to exit into a body of water to mate and lay eggs. Other species of mermithids are well-known for inducing water-seeking behaviour in their hosts, so given that the nematode would dry out very quickly if it becomes exposed to the outside environment, it is likely that when the time comes, A. solenopsi just takes its ant for a terminal dunk.

Image from figure of the paper.

Poinar Jr, G.O., Porter, S.D., Tang, S. and Hyman, B.C. (2007) Allomermis solenopsi n. sp. (Nematoda: Mermithidae) parasitising the fire ant Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Argentina. Systematic Parasitology 68: 115-128.

Contributed by Tommy Leung.

1 comment:

  1. Being an ant seems to really suck. This blog is awesome for a dose of gross, by the way. Keep up the nice work!