For horned passalus beetles, having wriggly nematode larvae inside their bodies will actually benefit them and the forests they live in, according to Science News.

In a new report published in Biology Letters, the researchers found that beetles who have Chondronema passali larvae eat more rotting wood than the beetles who don’t have larvae. Authors suggest that with the increased decomposition, the cycle of forest nutrients could also go faster.

Earlier research shows that 70 to 90 percent of bess beetles or patent leather beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus) are inhabited with thousands of nematodes, which feed off the beetles’ blood (haemolymph). In sucking the blood, it also appears to suck the beetles’ energy.

Andy Davis, an ecologist from the University of Georgia in Athens, stresses that this may be the reason why infected beetles eat more wood.

A horned passalus beetle that is not infested by nematode larvae breaks down on average 60 grams of wood in three months (left) while a larvae-laden beetle breaks down 70 grams on average (right). (Science News)

Davis, along with undergraduate student Cody Prouty, captured 113 beetles from the woods, isolated each one in a container that has a chunk of wood. After three months, they weighed each insect on how much wood they had eaten, digested, excreted and eaten again.

The researchers also dissected the insects to check which of them had nematodes. Those with the larvae had processed an average of 0.77 grams of wood per day, which was 15 percent more than the uninfected beetles who only had 0.67 grams per day.

“[This study is part of] a new wave of research coming out now that promotes the idea that parasites are more important in the ecosystem,” Davis says. “There are so many ways they’re interconnected, and we’re just getting around to studying them.”

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