Cow-like Mealybug Home to Sexy Symbiotic Machine

Jennifer Frazer 

Mealybugs and their myrmecoid herders. Photo by Ron Hemberger, courtesy J. McCutcheon. Used with permission.

If it goes around on six legs, it doesn’t get much dowdier than the mealybug 1. Powdery, bovine, and frightening if you find them binging on your gardenias, these wax-shedding roving syringes are one of many mosquito-like parasites that plague plants. Yes, sexy, mealybugs are not — unless you look inside them.

There, you will find a finely tuned engine for turning sugary, protein-poor tree sap into something nourishing enough to support mealybug, symbiotic bacterium, and the symbiotic bacterium that lives inside the symbiotic bacterium. You read that right. Mealybugs have nested bacterial helpers.

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