A new microsporidian is the first described pathogen of tawny crazy ants

A new study describing the first pathogen to be found in tawny crazy ants has been published by the Invasive Species Research group at BFL and is co-authored by USDA scientists. This is an important discovery given the national prominence and attention of these invasive ants.

The pathogen is a new genus of microsporidian parasites that infects the ant fat bodies. They are fascinating parasites because microsporidia have evolved complex life histories including multiple spore types, yet have lost several key metabolic abilities and so have very small genomes. In this case, we have discovered a new genus, which is also interesting because it is more closely related to microsporidian parasites of stone flies than to microsporidia that infect other ant species. The new taxon is called “Myrmecomorba nylanderiae” which alludes to it being a pathogen of crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva).

The potential of this pathogen to be used for biological control of tawny crazy ants is the subject of ongoing studies in the BFL lab. Other microsporidia have been shown to have deleterious effects on their hosts, such as two species of microsporidia that infect fire ants. Long term control of invasive ant populations will probably depend on a cocktail of host specific pathogens and parasites. This is a first step in exploring whether microsporidia could be effective for biological control of crazy ants.

Myrmecomorba nylanderiae gen. et sp. nov., a microsporidian parasite of the tawny crazy ant Nylanderia fulva. RM Plowes, JJ Becnel, EG LeBrun, DH Oi, SM Valles, NT Jones, LE Gilbert. (2015) Journal of Invertebrate Pathology (129) 45–56