World's Tiniest Fly May Decapitate Ants, Live in Their Heads

Steve V. sent me this article about a newly discovered species of fly, the smallest known. Researchers think it lives by parasitizing ants. Steve was more impressed with the headline than with the general caliber of Fox News. In this case, we can probably trust Fox; it borrowed both the headline and the article from the excellent LiveScience. 

World's Tiniest Fly May Decapitate Ants, Live in Their Heads | LiveScience: "The flies lay their eggs in the body of the ant; the eggs develop and migrate to the ant's head where they feed on the huge muscles used to open and close the ant's mouthparts. They eventually devour the ant's brain as well, causing it to wander aimlessly for two weeks. The head then falls off after the fly larva dissolve the membrane that keeps it attached.

The fly then takes up residence in the decapitated ant head for another two weeks, before hatching out as a full-grown adult. "

Related Post: New Discovery in Bee Collapse


  1. I love you for not posting pictures of the larva XD I think I've heard of this before tho...

  2. :)

    This kind of behavior is common among phorid flies, so I wouldn't be too surprised if you've heard of that part. The new part is that this particular phorid is smaller than any other known fly.

  3. Wasn´t there a phorid that attacked cockroaches instead? Or am I mixing it up with some sort of wasp?

  4. You're right both ways; there are wasps and phorid flies that parasitize cockroaches. The phorids are a fascinating group. Some of them specialize in fire ants, which has caused them to be imported to Texas for that purpose. A different phorid has been implicated in the recent devastation of honey bee colonies. Several species thrive in human corpses, and I've heard of cases in which an exhumed coffin released a cloud of phorids. There's more to tell, but you may not want to hear me wax descriptive about matters larval. . . .

    1. Au contraire, I am very interested on reading anything you say on the matter- as long as there are no actual photos of the things, I can stand any sort of description. In fact, I really wish I could research more about them myself- there must be all kinds of fascinating stuff I'm missing.

  5. Yes, they really are fascinating, and scientists are only beginning to understand how they interact with us. For example, one parasitic fly (not a phorid) introduces a protein that causes allergic reactions in humans. Other flies have been implicated in spreading tetanus, fungi, viruses, even prions. Some of them apparently lay their eggs on ticks, which means a human suffering from Lyme disease may also suffer a maggot infestation.

    Phorids invading live humans seem to do so mostly through the penis, the vulva, or the anus. Sometimes they colonize the intestines or the bladder. They can also enter the body through wounds. Other flies have long been known to invade surgical wounds in the hospital (even in countries with a high standard of care), but only in the last few years have doctors discovered that phorid flies do this as well.

    Because phorids can be so small and hard to detect, we ought to suspect that they account for a lot of problems not otherwise explained. Delusional parasitosis might be one. This is a condition in which the patient feels insects crawling on or in his skin. It is sometimes caused by a detectable factor like cocaine abuse, but often doctors find no cause and label the condition as mental illness. Maybe it's not.

  6. How exactly does the maggot infestation via tick work? I may think twice about going into the long grass after this...

    Interesting about "delusional parasitosis". I think I've told you how one time after I saw one very small, single maggot I started seeing dozens of them crawling up the walls, even though my mother assured me there weren´t any at all. And I swear I have never consumed any drugs XD

  7. I think everybody experiences that to a certain degree. My son Griffin and I were just talking last night about how, having been bitten by a couple of mosquitoes, we kept seeing mosquitoes everywhere. Of course those insects (the real ones, not the ones we imagined) had actually hurt us a bit. Why we tend to fear certain bugs that aren't actively harming us is another question. I guess this is really the same question we've discussed with regard to arachnophobia.

    About the ticks: The mother fly hunts down a tick and lays her eggs on it. When the tick latches onto a mammal to parasitize it, the larvae emerge from the eggs and drop onto the tick's host. They may enter the host's body through the wound the tick makes. Various flies use this same strategy with mosquitoes and other biting flies, and I believe on fleas as well.

    Incidentally, I sometimes wonder if arachnophobia is really an instinctive aversion to ticks and mites, which has generalized to their more visible kin. We have more to fear from those parasitic arachnids than from most spiders.


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