Is this Strepsiptera?

A mysterious protrusion on the abdomen of a Dolichoderus lutosus worker from Tolima, Colombia.

Strepsiptera, the twisted-wing parasites, rank high among the oddities of the natural world. These minute insects burrow deep in the abdomens of their hosts with just enough body protruding to breath and mate. I have seen twisted-wing parasites on bees, wasps, and leafhoppers, but never before on a worker ant. Until- maybe– just this morning while processing ant photographs from Colombia.

In one image, scarcely in focus in the corner of the frame, is a too-symmetrical-to-be-random wound burned into the abdomen of a Dolichoderus lutosus worker ant. I did not notice this in the field- it’s just a happenstance capture.

I suspect this to be Strepsiptera. Can any of you with relevant expertise confirm?

***update: Strepsiptera expert Jeya Kathirithamby writes that it’s a male Strepsiptera pupa, possibly Caenocholax but confirmation isn’t possible with this image.

5 thoughts on “Is this Strepsiptera?”

  1. I’d say this being Strepsiptera is likely, if not probable. We have Twisted Winged parasites in other social insects and specifically other hymenoptera. The shift in host from wasp to ant would be almost effortless, i would think. (Logically, i would presume Strepsiptera to have developed attacking non-flying targets first, just from a “host-availability” standpoint).
    Your observation on the symmetry is spot on, great find!!!

  2. As I was looking for some sequences to use to represent outgroup Camponotus species for a phylogeny, I happened to come across this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/341573602
    I read this post this morning, so I was surprised to see that the title of the unpublished work that this sequence is from is “A record of a male strepsipteran (Strepsiptera: Myrmecolacidae) parasitizing a Camponotus ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Thailand”.

    What a coincidants!

  3. Nice that you posted the update confirming what you thought. Even nicer, and more interesting, is that there is such a thing as a “Strepsiptera expert.” Who would have thought? 😉

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