Thanks to a Tapeworm Parasite, European Ants Live Long, Cushy Lives

Matt Hrodey in Discover:

Temnothorax nylanderi is a low-key species of ant found mostly in Europe, where it builds nests in tree bark and rotting branches and other woody, secluded places. This tiny brown arthropod leads a quiet life, preferring shade and shelter and staying out of the way of the woodpecker’s bill. But for all this quiet, T. nylanderi faces a strange, alien threat in the form of a parasite that turns its members into yellowed, sedentary oafs. These compromised individuals hang out in the nest, not doing much of anything, defying what it means to be an ant.

How does this happen? A new paper posted to the bioRxiv preprint server concludes that the parasites flood the ants with new proteins that appear to change how their bodies function. Most notably, the proteins extend the ants’ lives by several fold (an exact figure has yet to be determined). The infected may even live as long as queens, which can last 20 years.

More here.