Oregon State College analysis has recognized the oldest identified specimen of a fungus parasitizing an ant, and the fossil additionally represents a brand new fungal genus and species.
“It’s a mushroom rising out of a carpenter ant,” mentioned OSU’s George Poinar Jr., a world knowledgeable in utilizing plant and animal life types preserved in amber to study in regards to the biology and ecology of the distant previous.
A mushroom is the reproductive construction of many fungi, together with those you discover rising in your yard, and Poinar and a collaborator in France named their discovery Allocordyceps baltica. They discovered the brand new sort of Ascomycota fungi in an ant preserved in 50-million-year-old amber from Europe’s Baltic area.
“Ants are hosts to a variety of intriguing parasites, a few of which modify the bugs’ habits to learn the parasites’ improvement and dispersion,” mentioned Poinar, who has a courtesy appointment within the OSU Faculty of Science. “Ants of the tribe Camponotini, generally often known as carpenter ants, appear particularly inclined to fungal pathogens of the genus Ophiocordyceps, together with one species that compels contaminated ants to chew into numerous erect plant elements simply earlier than they die.”
Doing so, he explains, places the ants in a positive place for permitting fungal spores to be launched from cup-shaped ascomata – the fungi’s fruiting physique –protruding from the ants’ head and neck. Carpenter ants normally make their nests in bushes, rotting logs and stumps.
The brand new fungal genus and species shares sure options with Ophiocordyceps but in addition shows a number of developmental levels not beforehand reported, Poinar mentioned. To call the genus, positioned within the order Hypocreales, Poinar and fellow researcher Yves-Marie Maltier mixed the Greek phrase for brand spanking new – alloios – with the identify of identified genus Cordyceps.
“We are able to see a big, orange, cup-shaped ascoma with growing perithecia – flask-shaped constructions that permit the spores out – rising from the rectum of the ant,” Poinar mentioned. “The vegetative a part of the fungus is popping out of the stomach and the bottom of the neck. We see freestanding fungal our bodies additionally bearing what appear like perithecia, and as well as we see what appear like the sacs the place spores develop. The entire levels, these hooked up to the ant and the freestanding ones, are of the identical species.”
The fungus couldn’t be positioned within the identified ant-infecting genus Ophiocordyceps as a result of ascomata in these species normally come out the neck or head of an ant, Poinar mentioned, and never the rectum.
“There is no such thing as a doubt that Allocordyceps represents a fungal an infection of a Camponotus ant,” he mentioned. “That is the primary fossil document of a member of the Hypocreales order rising from the physique of an ant. And because the earliest fossil document of fungal parasitism of ants, it may be utilized in future research as a reference level relating to the origin of the fungus-ant affiliation.”
Reference: “Allocordyceps baltica gen. et sp. nov. (Hypocreales: Clavicipitaceae), an historic fungal parasite of an ant in Baltic amber” by George Poinar and Yves-Marie Maltier, 5 June 2021, Fungal Biology.