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Distribution, host specificity, and the potential for cryptic speciation in hoverfly Microdon myrmicae (Diptera: Syrphidae), a social parasite of Myrmica ants


Simona Bonelli, Department of Animal and Human Biology, University of Turin, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 10126 Turin, Italy. E-mail:


1. In 2002 Microdon myrmicae, a social parasite of Myrmica ants, was taxonomically separated from Microdon mutabilis. The original study in the U.K. found Microdon myrmicae to be specific to one ant species, Myrmica scabrinodis, yet it became apparent that the range of Microdon myrmicae includes at least the western Palaearctic.

2. Current knowledge of the European distributions of both Microdon myrmicae and Microdon mutabilis in Europe is reviewed. Also, in detailed studies of two Polish populations, Microdon myrmicae was found to survive equally well with two Myrmica ant species. We examine, however, the possibility that this reflects the presence of two separate Microdon species, each connected to one species of Myrmica.

3. Forty populations of Microdon myrmicae and 37 populations of Microdon mutabilis are currently known in Europe. All the populations in central and southern Europe that were visited after the separation of the two species were identified as Microdon myrmicae, while Microdon mutabilis’ recognised range is now restricted to the British Isles and Scandinavia. Myrmica scabrinodis was found to host Microdon myrmicae in 26 out of 31 populations investigated. Four other Myrmica species were identified to the host Microdon myrmicae: Myrmica gallienii (eight populations), Myrmica rubra (four), Myrmica vandeli (one), and Myrmica sabuleti (one). Microdon myrmicae occurs in waterlogged grassland habitats, mainly of the ‘Molinietum’ type, resulting in a patchy distribution relative to its host ants.

4. In two populations Myrmica scabrinodis and Myrmica gallienii are both abundant and rear Microdon myrmicae in equal proportions. Microdon myrmicae pupae from Myrmica gallienii nests were heavier and the anterior respiratory organs were of significantly different shape. In contrast, the comparisons of Microdon myrmicae pupae among all other populations showed no significant differences, suggesting only one species throughout the European range.