Corpse management of an invasive ant inhibits spread of pathogenic fungi

Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is an invasive pest that has spread from South America during the past 160 years to all over the world, including Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The ant is able to reduce biodiversity by displacing native species, inflict damage to infrastructure and agriculture, and cause domestic nuisance.

The invasion success of the Argentine ants has been attributed to their lack of territoriality as the ants mix freely between nests and can hence form extensive supercolonies spanning thousands of kilometres and have very high population densities. However, these same properties can also predispose their colonies to diseases.

Scientist from Ecology and Genetics Research Unit of University of Oulu, Finland, have now discovered that invasive Argentine ants prevent spread of pathogenic fungi from dead nestmates by depositing them to toilet areas and applying anal gland secretion on them. Nest hygiene, such as management of corpses, food waste and faeces, is important for social insects to prevent spreading of parasites and pathogens in the colony.

The research project began when the scientists were testing experiments for children’s science fair. “We fed the ants with blue food colouring dye and noticed that the ants had dedicated toilet area in the nest. When we saw that the ants took their dead to the toilets, we were fascinated”, explains doctor Jurvansuu.

By placing the dead to the dedicated toilet areas, the ants ensure that the corpses are continuously treated with the anal gland secretion, which was shown to inhibit germination of fungal spores. When ants were not allowed to manage the dead, the corpses started to grow fungus in a couple of days.

Argentine ants are notoriously difficult to eradicate yet this discovery may provide new biocontrol method by using the ant’s natural fungal pathogen.

The research article was published in Scientific Reports on 20th of May. The publications is accompanied with videos of Argentine ant corpse management: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44144-z#Sec20

Article:

Corpse management of the invasive Argentine ant inhibits growth of pathogenic fungi, Jenni Kesäniemi, Janne J. Koskimäki, Jaana Jurvansuu. Scientific Reports (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44144-z

Argentine ants prevent spread of pathogenic fungi from dead nestmates by applying anal gland secretion on them.

 

 

Last updated: 29.5.2019