Headhunters of the animal kingdom

A pair of phorid flies hovers over a wounded ant. While the male hangs back, the female lands and walks around the ant, examining it and poking it. Then she hops onto it and rips its head off. Finally, the female drags her trophy across the forest floor to an isolated, safe place, and eats it.

This never-before-seen behaviour is performed by an insect called Dohrniphora longirostrata. It belongs to a group of insects called phorid flies or scuttle flies, or sometimes “coffin flies”.

Several phorid flies have been nicknamed “ant-decapitating” flies because they, well, decapitate ants. But in every known case, the decapitation was incidental. For instance, fire ant decapitating flies lay eggs inside healthy fire ants. When the larvae hatch, they head straight for the ant’s head and feast on its contents. Eventually the head pops off the ant’s body, which is left behind twitching like a zombie.

D. longirostrata is the first phorid fly known to actively cut off an ant’s head before eating it. The discovery has been published in Biodiversity Data Journal.

Read the rest at BBC Earth.

Photo credit: Brian Brown

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