Virus host shifts occur frequently, but the whole range of host species and the actual transmission pathways are often poorly understood. Deformed wing virus (DWV), an RNA virus described from honeybees (Apis mellifera
), has been shown to have a broad host range. Since ants are often scavenging on dead honeybees, foodborne transmission of these viruses may occur. However, the role of the ant Myrmica rubra
as an alternative host is not known and foodborne transmission to ants has not been experimentally addressed yet. Here, we show with a 16-week feeding experiment that foodborne transmission enables DWV type-A and -B to infect M. rubra
and that these ants may serve as a virus reservoir. However, the titers of both plus- and minus-sense viral RNA strands decreased over time. Since the ants were fed with highly virus-saturated honeybee pupae, this probably resulted in initial viral peaks, then approaching lower equilibrium titers in infected individuals later. Since DWV infections were also found in untreated field-collected M. rubra
colonies, our results support the wide host range of DWV and further suggest foodborne transmission as a so far underestimated spread mechanism.
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