Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 247–252 | Cite as

Effects of the ectoparasitic fungus Rickia wasmannii on its ant host Myrmica scabrinodis: changes in host mortality and behavior

  • E. CsataEmail author
  • K. Erős
  • B. Markó
Research Article


Social animals like ants, although seemingly well-armed against parasites because of the protective nature of the social system, are nevertheless exposed to several parasitic organisms, among them fungi of the order Laboulbeniales (Ascomycetes). Rickia wasmannii is one such ectoparasitic fungus that lives on different species of the ant genus Myrmica in Europe. The fungus attaches to the outer layer of the cuticle, while appearing on the surface of the hosts as a setae-like structure. There is little information on the effects of the fungi on the host. Usually it is regarded as neutral, in spite of its high abundance on the ants. We studied the impact of a R. wasmannii infection on the lifespan and grooming behavior of its main host M. scabrinodis in artificial nests in laboratory conditions for 2 months. The lifespan of infected individuals was significantly reduced in comparison with the lifespan of uninfected ants. The frequency of allogrooming was significantly higher in infected nests, while only a marginally significant positive effect could be detected in the case of autogrooming. Increased grooming may either be an effective aspect of host defense or, alternatively, a pathogen-induced behavioral change that enhances pathogen transmission. This study thus provides the first documented evidence of the potential effects of R. wasmannii on its ant hosts.


Ants Behavioral modifications Ectoparasite Fungi Neutral interactions Survival 



We are grateful for the assistance of Zsófia Pálfi, Zsolt Czekes, Enikő Német in the course of our laboratory and field work, and for the help of Monica Hughes regarding the biology of R. wasmannii and, generally, Laboulbeniales fungi. We are also grateful for the suggestions of Lajos Rózsa, Simon Tragust, Timothée Brütsch and Matthias Fürst, which improved the quality of the manuscript considerably. We are also indebted to Thomas Cooper for linguistic revision. Ciprian Mihali kindly provided the SEM photo. During preparation of the manuscript E.Cs. and K.E. were both supported by scholarships of the Collegium Talentum, and also by scholarships in the framework of the TÁMOP-4.2.4.A/2-11/1-2012-0001 “National Excellence Program” offered by the European Union and the State of Hungary and co-financed by the European Social Fund, while B.M. was supported by a grant of the Ministry of National Education (Romania), CNCS-UEFISCDI, project no. PN-II-ID-PCE-2012-4-0595.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hungarian Department of Biology and EcologyBabeş-Bolyai UniversityCluj-NapocaRomania
  2. 2.Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human BiologyUniversity of DebrecenDebrecenHungary

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