Interactions Between Ants and Larvae of the Host- Manipulating Parasite, Dicrocoelium Dendriticum

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Unrau, Sarah
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Many parasites manipulate their host’s behaviour to facilitate their own transmission. The phenomenon is complex, requiring multi-disciplinary approaches. I evaluated host decision making and utilized modern imaging techniques to understand how larvae of the fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, can so radically alter the behaviour of their ant, Formica aserva, hosts. My results showed that infected ants make decisions regarding substrate that uninfected hosts never make. They preferentially attached with their mandibles to flower blossoms that were familiar to them and they preferred flowers that contained attached nestmates. Site-selection by larva occurred within the ventral-anterior-most region of the sub-esophageal ganglion of the ant brain, proximal to the control centres that regulate the action of the mandibles, feeding behaviours, and temperature sensing. My results provide the key foundation for further studies designed to determine whether the complex manipulation of ant behaviour requires direct physical and/or neurochemical modulation by the brain worm.
Ants , Dicrocoelium dendriticum , Formica aserva , Parasitic brain infections