LAS VEGAS — Some species of parasitic roundworms can catapult themselves high to attach themselves to fruit flies and other insects. Experiments now show that jumping Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes take advantage of a secret weapon that makes them extremely effective at chasing their victims: static electricity.
Flying insects build up an electrical charge as they move through the air (SN: 10/31/22). It is the same effect that causes electricity to collect in the droplets of fog in the clouds, and eventually leads to lightning.
Individual insects can accumulate charges of 100 volts, or so biomechanical researcher Víctor Ortega Jiménez of the University of Maine in Orono reported on April 6 at the American Physical Society meeting. When the nematodes jump out, the charge on the passing insect draws the parasites like a cloth to the stable chest.
To test the effect of the electric command, Ortega Jiménez and colleagues mounted dead fruit flies on wires and placed them next to a surface covered in nematodes. When not attacking the fly, only the nematodes that happened to jump in the direction of the insect landed on the target, as expected. When the researchers applied an electric charge to a suspended fly, even the nematodes that initially turned in the wrong direction were caught in the electric field and pulled into the fly.
Ortega Jiménez also studied the effect of electric force on spider webs. When the insects get to the web, “the silk is drawn directly to the insects,” he said. That made him wonder if the jumping nematodes relied on those powers.
Researchers have long considered the effect of moisture and air flow on insects and other minute creatures. But they just mix electricity recently, says Ortega Jiménez. “We need to ask how animals react to these forces on this scale.”
#Static #electricity #helps #parasitic #nematodes #swarm #victims