Money Matters - Simplified

World's smallest flies known for “decapitating” ants!

The tiny specimen was spotted by the Thailand Inventory Group for Entomological Research in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

Ants beware!! Scientists have discovered a fly, perhaps the worlds’ smallest that can lop the heads off ants!!

This tiny parasite, named Euryplatea nanaknihali is a native of Thailand.

It belongs to the Phoridae family which contains diverse small, hump-backed insects similar to common fruit flies.

Though less than half a millimeter in length, one-fifteenth the size of a housefly and five times smaller than fruit fly, the new species is a fierce creature that is known for “decapitating” ants.

Brian V. Brown, curator of entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who identified the insect stated, "It's so small you can barely see it with the naked eye on a microscope slide. It's smaller than a flake of pepper. The housefly looks like a Godzilla fly beside it."

He added, "When you get really small like that, the environment changes. The viscosity of air starts to become a problem and wind currents are major events. It's amazing how small something can be and still have all of its organs. This is a new frontier, and publishing this tiny fly is basically a challenge to other people to find something smaller."

“It had always been assumed that smaller species of ants would be free from attack because it would be physically impossible for flies that are 1-3 millimeters in length to develop in their relatively tiny heads,” he said. “However, here we show that even the smallest host ants in a host-parasitoid system cannot escape parasitism.”-- Dr. Brian Brown.

How does the fly severe the heads off ants?
The tiny specimen was spotted by the Thailand Inventory Group for Entomological Research in Kaeng Krachan National Park. The female fly, the first of its kind to be discovered in Asia is an ant parasite.

It has smoky gray wings and a pointed egg-depositing organ that enables it to lay eggs inside another insect easily.

The euryplatea nanaknihali lays its eggs in the skin of ants. The eggs hatch releasing larvae inside the ants’ body which feed on the brain and muscle tissue.

The ants eventually die leading to their heads to fall off. The fly lives in the severed head until it hatches out as an adult fly and then leaves the host.

Though the scientists have not witnessed this phenomenon, they theorize it’s a strong possibility since the newly discovered flies only known relative, Euryplatea eidmanni, is known to exhibit this behavior.

Brown says, “It had always been assumed that smaller species of ants would be free from attack because it would be physically impossible for flies that are 1-3 millimeters in length to develop in their relatively tiny heads. However, here we show that even the smallest host ants in a host-parasitoid system cannot escape parasitism.”

The new article is published in the July issue of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.