World's Smallest Fly Decapitates Ants

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A newly discovered species, Euryplatea nanaknihali, is the world's smallest fly, and has the rather unsavory habit of biting off the heads of ants, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

At just .4 millimeters in length, the fly is only a fraction of an inch in size. A house fly is 15 times bigger. A fruit fly is 5 times larger.

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The new member to the insect record books is also the first of its genus to be discovered in Asia. Members of its fly family (Phoridae) are all believed to decapitate ants. The process isn't a simple bite and patooie either.

Members of the Phoridae family lay eggs in the bodies of ants. The resulting larvae feed in the ants' heads, eventually causing decapitation. Not easy being an ant! On the upside, from a "pest" control perspective, some of these phorid flies are being used to try to control fire ants in the southern United States.

Nature seems to have pitted the world's smallest flies against the world's smallest ants.

Author Brian Brown of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County explained that the newfound flies can probably decapitate ants that have heads as small as .5 millimeters. Although this is speculation at now for the new species, Brown believes it's highly likely because the fly's only known relative, Euryplatea eidmanni, is known to parasitize ants in Equatorial Guinea.

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"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."

(Image: A reconstruction of the tiny phorid fly Euryplatea nanaknihali, with body size compared with a house fly (Musca domestica); Credit: Inna-Marie Strazhnik)

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