World's Smallest Fly Decapitates Ants and Lives in Their Severed Heads

By Chelsea Whyte on July 2, 2012 8:31 PM EDT

fly
A reconstruction of the world's tiniest fly, with body size compared with a house fly. Despite their small size, these little buggers have a vicious bite. (Photo: Credit: Inna-Marie Strazhnik)

The world's tiniest fly is just under half a millimeter in length, but it's a pretty fierce little creature.

The new species of phorid fly discovered in Thailand is 15 times smaller than a house fly and five times smaller than a fruit fly. But despite its size, it still has some gruesome habits. It feeds on tiny ants, decapitating them and living in the severed head.

"It's so small you can barely see it with the naked eye on a microscope slide. It's smaller than a flake of pepper," said Brian Brown, of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who identified the fly as a new species. "The housefly looks like a Godzilla fly beside it."

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The tiny fly, Euryplatea nanaknihali, is the first of its genus to be discovered in Asia, with a female specimen picked up by the Thailand Inventory Group for Entomological Research in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

"When you get really small like that, the environment changes," Brown told MSNBC. "The viscosity of air starts to become a problem and wind currents are major events. It's amazing how small something can be and still have all of its organs. This is a new frontier, and publishing this tiny fly is basically a challenge to other people to find something smaller."

It has smoky gray wings and the female they discovered has an egg-depositing organ that is pointed to make it easy to lay eggs inside another insect, as a parasitic fly would, reports Fox News. Phorid flies use the body of ants as a nest for eggs while they feast on the relatively huge muscles ants have in their heads that control their jaws. They eventually devour the ant's brain as well, causing it to wander aimlessly for two weeks, reports MSNBC.

"It had always been assumed that smaller species of ants would be free from attack because it would be physically impossible for flies that are 1-3 millimeters in length to develop in their relatively tiny heads," Brown said. "However, here we show that even the smallest host ants in a host-parasitoid system cannot escape parasitism."

Brown told the New York Times that the study was one more example of the importance of small creatures in the ecosystem. Insects in particular provide invaluable services like pollination and decomposition - and, in this case, ant control.

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