Parasitic insect - Stylops melittae
Family - Stylopidae
Also known as - Twisted wing parasite
Stylops melittae is a species of parasitic insect that parasitise mostly females of various mining bee species of the family Andrena. The female produces a large number of first generation larvae which are themselves mainly female, to be distributed on flowers so that when a mining bee of a species that Stylops melittae prey on visits that flower for pollen it also picks up a parasitic load, transporting it back to the bee's nest. These parasitic larvae then enter a larval stage of the new host species, moulting into a secondary larvae to feed and establish themselves in the abdomen. Some time later after several further moults their anterior portion breaks through between two abdominal segments of the now adult bee's skin, which in case of a male Stylops, as a rudimentary flying insect, goes off to find a mate, produce more first generation larvae and re–infect more bees. A bee infected with a parasite is called a "stylopised" bee. The host species develops somewhat normally but with reduced function, females who seem to be more often infected are are supposedly sterile and exhibit male behaviour, however stylopised female bees have been photographed mating which questions their sterility. The less common male stylopised bees tend to be more "female".
A genus of some 604 species only around 17 live in the UK, extremely small and inconspicuous and commonly called twisted wing parasites, the only time a Stylops is usually seen is when a stylopised bee is found. Stylops melittae live by filtering particles out of the blood of the host, with females developing and remaining in the host as a larval form with only their heads protruding, they never fully develop into an insect but remain to await a male. Males do develop into a full flying insect and leave the host to find a female and mate, after which they die, however females never leave the host. The right hand photo below is of an older Chocolate Mining Bee heavily pollen covered which has been parasitised by a Stylops melittae larvae, in the photo a small yellow protrusion will be seen on the bee's abdomen, this is the Stylops anterior portion. The centre photo has a clearer view of another parasitised Bee.
Photo ©2011 Aiwok
Photo ©2011 Aiwok
Parasitised Chocolate Mining Bee
J. Lance, FBCP
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