Meet the decapitating ant fly.
These guys live up to their name because they do just that: remove the heads of ants… from the inside out.
Making it one of the animal world’s most skilled predators.
Here’s how it all goes down.
Female flies will hover a few millimeters from their target ant.
Once in position, they swoop in and inject the ant with their egg.
The fly has a special hypodermic needle-like ovipositor that deposits the egg in the ant’s membrane right between its legs.
Eventually the egg hatches, and the maggot squirms its way through the ant’s body to its brain, where it lives off of its host’s bodily fluids for weeks.
Oh, and the maggot has total control over the ant’s mind.
And it’s pretty sophisticated about it.
When an ant is invaded by a parasite, the colony typically notices its unusual behavior and the ant is exiled.
But ants invaded by this maggot act pretty normal, likely because the maggot needs the ant to keep eating so it can keep living off of it.
Normally, when ants die, they go to a hot, dry place to do so in order to prevent fungi and other pathogens from hurting other ants.
But not so with this parasite.
When the larva is ready to make its debut, it makes the ant go to an area of high humidity so it can properly develop when it emerges.
Once in place, the larva releases a chemical that dissolves the ant’s membrane
And the ant’s head eventually falls off.
The larva eats away at the tissue and membrane until the head is hollow, and begins to pupate inside.
A few weeks later, a new ant-decapitating fly emerges.
Talk about a dramatic entrance.
But it’s actually a pretty smart and sophisticated strategy when you think about it.
Life, uh, finds a way.
These horrifying flies were discovered over twenty years ago by an entomologist named Sanford Porter.
Porter was in South America studying fire ants when he noticed that their population was significantly lower than the ones in North America.
He gathered some dead ants and later found maggots in their bodies.
And after about 2 weeks…
Their heads fell off.
Exposing a pupa inside.
This gave Dr. Porter an idea: what if we introduced these flies to the U.S. as a way to curb the fire ant population here?
In 1997, he got approval to release the first species of South American ant-decapitating fly in the U.S., and has since released four more batches over the years.
And guess what?
Preliminary research shows a 10 to 20 percent drop in invasive fire ant populations.
So as terrifying as these flies may be, they might be our best defense against destructive fire ants.
Which, by the way, can swim; in case you didn’t know.
So as long as it means I can keep my head, I’m cool with these tiny flies.
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