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, 7 (1), e30692

Detection of Wolbachia in the Tick Ixodes Ricinus Is Due to the Presence of the Hymenoptera Endoparasitoid Ixodiphagus Hookeri


Detection of Wolbachia in the Tick Ixodes Ricinus Is Due to the Presence of the Hymenoptera Endoparasitoid Ixodiphagus Hookeri

Olivier Plantard et al. PLoS One.


The identification of micro-organisms carried by ticks is an important issue for human and animal health. In addition to their role as pathogen vectors, ticks are also the hosts for symbiotic bacteria whose impact on tick biology is poorly known. Among these, the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis has already been reported associated with Ixodes ricinus and other tick species. However, the origins of Wolbachia in ticks and their consequences on tick biology (known to be very diverse in invertebrates, ranging from nutritional symbionts in nematodes to reproductive manipulators in insects) are unknown. Here we report that the endoparasitoid wasp Ixodiphagus hookeri (Hymenoptera, Chalcidoidea, Encyrtidae)--strictly associated with ticks for their development--infested at almost 100% prevalence by a W. pipientis strain belonging to a Wolbachia supergroup that has already been reported as associated with other hymenopteran parasitoids. In a natural population of I. ricinus that suffers high parasitism rates due to I. hookeri, we used specific PCR primers for both hymenopteran and W. pipientis gene fragments to show that all unfed tick nymphs parasitized by I. hookeri also harbored Wolbachia, while unparasitized ticks were Wolbachia-free. We demonstrated experimentally that unfed nymphs obtained from larvae exposed to I. hookeri while gorging on their vertebrate host also harbor Wolbachia. We hypothesize that previous studies that have reported W. pipientis in ticks are due to the cryptic presence of the endoparasitoid wasp I. hookeri. This association has remained hidden until now because parasitoids within ticks cannot be detected until engorgement of the nymphs brings the wasp eggs out of diapause. Finally, we discuss the consequences of this finding for our understanding of the tick microbiome, and their possible role in horizontal gene transfer among pathogenic and symbiotic bacteria.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Ixodiphagus hookeri (Hymenoptera : Chalcidoidea, Encyrtidae).
A Female habitus. B Female ovipositing in an engorged nymphs of Ixodes ricinus (ovipositor indicated by the arrow). C Adults of I. hookeri around the dead body of an engorged nymph of I. ricinus. D Emergence hole from which parasitoids exit the dead body of the engorged nymph.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Phylogenetic tree of Wolbachia pipientis.
A Neighbor-Joining tree based on the the Ftsz sequence obtained with MEGA5 using the Maximum Composite Likelihood distance. Only bootstrap values greater than 80% are shown. Letters A to F (at the right of the name of the host from which the Wolbachia was sequenced and of its accession number) refer to the Wolbachia supergroups already described .

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