Vetufebrus ovatus n. gen., n. sp. (Haemospororida: Plasmodiidae) vectored by a streblid bat fly (Diptera: Streblidae) in Dominican amber
© Poinar; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2011
Received: 31 October 2011
Accepted: 7 December 2011
Published: 7 December 2011
Both sexes of bat flies in the families Nycteribiidae and Streblidae (Diptera: Hippoboscoidea) reside in the hair or on the wing membranes of bats and feed on blood. Members of the Nycteribiidae transmit bat malaria globally however extant streblids have never been implemented as vectors of bat malaria. The present study shows that during the Tertiary, streblids also were vectors of bat malaria.
A new haemospororidan, Vetufebrus ovatus, n. gen., n. sp., (Haemospororida: Plasmodiidae) is described from two oocysts attached to the midgut wall and sporozoites in salivary glands and ducts of a fossil bat fly (Diptera: Streblidae) in Dominican amber. The new genus is characterized by ovoid oocysts, short, stubby sporozoites with rounded ends and its occurrence in a fossil streblid. This is the first haemosporidian reported from a streblid bat fly and shows that representatives of the Hippoboscoidea were vectoring bat malaria in the New World by the mid-Tertiary.
This report is the first evidence of an extant or extinct streblid bat fly transmitting malaria. Discovering a mid-tertiary malarial parasite in a fossil streblid that closely resembles members of a malarial genus found in nycteribiid bat flies today shows how little we know about the vector associations of streblids. While no malaria parasites have been found in extant streblids, they probably occur and it is possible that streblids were the earliest lineage of flies that transmitted bat malaria to Chiroptera.
Hippoboscoidea vectors of malaria
Since it was not possible to photograph the malarial organisms without polishing away portions of the fly, photographs had to be taken through the thickness of the amber matrix as well as the width of the body wall of the vector. Adobe Photoshop was used to enlarge the photos and obtain the clearest images.
The amber with the bat fly came from La Búcara mine in the Cordillera Septentrional of the Dominican Republic. Dating of Dominican amber is still controversial with the latest purposed age of 20-15 mya based on foraminifera  and the earliest as 45-30 mya based on coccoliths . In addition, Dominican amber is secondarily deposited in sedimentary rocks, which makes a definite age determination difficult . A range of ages for Dominican amber is possible since the amber is associated with turbiditic sandstones of the Upper Eocene to Lower Miocene Mamey Group . Dominican amber was produced by the leguminous tree, Hymenaea protera Poinar  and a re-construction of the Dominican amber forest based on amber fossils indicated that the environment was similar to that of a present day tropical moist forest .
Results and Discussion
Description of malarial pathogen
Phylum Apicomplexa Levine, 1970
Class Aconoidasida Mehlhorn, Peters & Haberkorn, 1980
Order Haemospororida Danilewsky, 1885
The description is based on two oocysts and sporozoites in the oocysts and salivary glands/secretions of a fossil streblid bat fly .
Description. Oocysts small, oval, with nucleated cells 3-5 μm in diameter and developing sporozoites 7-10 μm in length; sporozoites in salivary glands and ducts stubby, with rounded ends, 8-10 μm in length; occurs in a Dominican amber streblid bat fly .
Type species: Vetufebrus ovatus Poinar
Vetufebrus ovatus Poinar, n. sp.
Description: Oocysts brown; oocyst A, 32 μm × 15 μm; surrounding membrane 1.2 -1.4 μm wide, containing dark nucleated cells 3-5 μm in diameter and developing sporozoites 7-10 μm in length; oocyst B, 29 μm × 17 μm, containing dark nucleated cells 3-5 μm in diameter and developing sporozoites 7-10 μm in length; surrounding membrane 1.2-1.4 μm wide; sporozoites in salivary glands/secretions short, stubby, with rounded ends, 8-10 μm in length.
Etymology: The generic name is from the Latin "vetus" for old and the Latin "febris" for fever. The specific epithet is from the Latin "ovatus" for ovate, referring to the shape of the oocysts.
Holotype. Specimen (accession # D-7-239) deposited in the Poinar amber collection maintained at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.
Locality: La Búcara amber mine (19°13' × 70°40') in the northern portion of the Dominican Republic.
The present study represents the first description of a haemosporidian reported from a streblid bat fly and shows that representatives of the Hippoboscoidea were vectoring bat malaria in the mid-Tertiary. The presence of sporozoites in salivary glands and ducts indicates that the streblid was a successful vector of Vetufebrus.
Sporogonic stages of bat malaria in Hippoboscoidea (all Nycteriibidae except for Vetufebrus in a fossil streblid).
35 × 15,29 × 17
oval, 31 × 10
57 × 47
The sporogonic stages of Polychromophilus are characterized by round, slow growing oocysts attached to the midgut of the vector and short, stubby sporozoites with rounded ends . The mature round oocysts of Polychromophilus spp. contrast with the small oval oocysts of Vetufebrus (Table 2)(Figures 2, 4A, B). However, Adam and Landau  noted a small (31 × 10 μm), oval Polychromophilus oocyst in the nycteribiid fly, Penicillidia fulvida Bigot, 1889. It is likely that this oval oocyst in the nycteribiid was still developing, which could be the case with the two oocysts of Vetufebrus. While the sporozoites noted in the two oocysts of Vetufebrus are similar in size and shape to those in the salivary glands, it is possible that some of the salivary gland sporozoites originated from an earlier infection.
Short and stubby sporozoites with rounded ends as reported here for Vetufebrus (Figures 3, 4C) are characteristic of Polychromophilus infections [17–19](Table 2) and the dimensions of Vetufebrus sporozoites fall within the range of some Polychromophilus spp. (Table 2). While Vetufebrus could represent an early lineage of Polychromophilus, this is unclear due to the small size of the oocysts. Also bat malaria has not been found in extant streblids even though species of the closely related Nycteribiidae carry bat malaria (Table 1). Adam & Landau  found no malarial stages in the streblids, Raymondia simplex Jobling 1954, R. seminuda Jobling, 1954 and R. leleupi Jobling 1954 while searching for vectors of Polychromophilus in the Congo Republic. Also, Garnham  found no sporogonic stages of malaria in African streblids.
In accordance with section 8.6 of the ICZN's International Code of Zoological
Nomenclature, copies of this article are deposited at the following five publicly accessible libraries: Natural History Museum, London, UK; American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA; Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France; Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.
I thank Alex Brown for supplying the specimen and Jake Jacobson and Roberta Poinar for commenting on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
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