Pathogenic fungus causes males to mate with dead females

(ORDO NEWS) — The pathogenic fungus that infects flies is transmitted by healthy flies touching diseased ones and now scientists have figured out how the fungus forces healthy males to come into contact with the corpses of infected females.

Fly entomophthora ( Entomóphthora múscae ) is one of the most well-studied species of pathogenic fungi that infects dipterous insects and slowly eats them from the inside.

An infected corpse can be identified by its characteristic swollen abdomen, which shows white spots that scatter spores, and wings spread apart, which give the dead fly a “crucified” appearance.

Since the fungus only transmits its spores by direct contact, it must somehow get healthy flies to come into contact with the corpse of an infected one.

Now scientists have understood how he does it: by releasing substances that act on male flies like pheromones , the insidious parasite makes them mate with the corpses of dead females.

Entomophthora achieves this by releasing special chemicals called sesquiterpenes , which cause males to have a strong desire to mate with the corpse of an infected female, Swedish scientists have found.

Curiously, the longer the corpse lies, the more attractive it is: 73 percent of the studied males copulated with the carcasses of females that died more than a day ago, and only 15 percent copulated with corpses that were no more than eight hours old.

This is probably due to the accumulation of secreted sesquiterpenes, whose concentration increases with an increase in the number of fungal spores.

In other words, the fungus more actively attracts male flies to those corpses, upon contact with which the risk of infection is maximum.

Pathogenic fungus causes males to mate with dead females 2
A dead female fly in a characteristic pose indicating infection with a deadly fungus: now the parasite is looking for a new host

The findings, in addition to surprising new insights into survival strategies in the wild, put scientists in the hands of a powerful insect repellent that could lead to new effective repellents.

For example, by adding sesquiterpenes to fly tape adhesive, we have an extremely effective insect trap that will quickly get rid of all the healthy male flies in the area.


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