Friday, May 15, 2009

Phorid Flies

This entry isn't part of the typical "collection" posts, but I wanted to address a certain topic. I greatly dislike when the media oversensationalizes something which is already interesting on its own. Case in point: Phorid flies as parasites of ants. It is a very fascinating parasitoid, and the title used for the article is "Parasitic flies turn ants into zombies." In a way it is technically true, but it gives a very hokey description of a neat process. Also, it is misleading in its topic, suggesting in the article that the maggots "control ant populations and the ant's movements," almost in a science fiction-y horror way. Thankfully, one of the scientists sets the record straight by saying, "I wouldn’t use the word 'control’ to describe what is happening. There is no brain left in the ant, and the ant just starts wandering aimlessly. This wandering stage goes on for about two weeks."

I learned about this parasitoid in my Insect Ecology course, and what happens is a Phorid fly attacks an ant, and lays an egg in the thorax. The larvae hatches and moves up into the ant's head, eventually consuming the brain and decapitating the ant (it dies and its head falls off). While it is being consumed, sure, the ant wanders around aimlessly, but that is really no surprise - insects can wander around for a while without heads or all their limbs, or with crushed body parts. The head capsule serves as protection for the larvae as it develops and eventually it emerges as an adult fly. Adding a sci-fi/horror/fiction aspect to it diminishes the true awesomeness of real-life nature.

Information about family Phoridae, aka Hump-Backed Flies:

These small flies are recognized by the humpbacked appearance, special veination of the wings, and laterally flattened hind femora. They also run in a very erratic fashion. The adults are common in habitats like decaying vegetation, and the larvae live in a variety of places: decaying animal or vegetable matter, fungi, or they are internal parasites of other insects. Some even live in the nests of ants or termites, and have reduced or absent wings.

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