Jan 28, 2008

A medicine cabinet in her ears

BeewolfImage: European beewolf carrying a honeybee towards its tunnel. Source: Wikipedia.

In a previous post (Intertwined lives: symbiosis), I mentioned the friendship between beewolf wasps and their pet microbes: female beewolves carry live cultures of fungicide-producing streptomycetes in specialized glands of their antennae. The insect spreads a secretion from these glands all over its underground nest, just before leaving an egg. The secretion (rich in streptomycetes) protects the beewolf offspring against fungal infections.

The symbiosis seems to be quite specific for this particular kind of wasps (Philanthus species) and the corresponding streptomycetes (‘Candidatus Streptomyces philanthi’). Other wasps do not have these bacteria, nor the special glands. Therefore, the relationship between beewolves and their microbes probably started around the time of origin of the first Philanthus. According to genetic studies made with the streptomycetes found in different beewolves (isolated from Europe, America and Africa), the time of origin dates back about 26-67 million years.

Now, how would you like to have a medicine cabinet in your ears?

Links from the University of Würzburg (Germany):
Other links:

Related link (added April 17th, 2011):
Streptomyces en las antenas, antibióticos en el capullo [in Spanish] por Manuel Sánchez. Curiosidades de la Microbiología (April 17th, 2011).

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