Life cycle of entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) / by Ganpati Jagdale


Entomopathogenic nematode life cycle

  • EPNs complete most of their life cycle in insects with an exception of infective juveniles, the only free-living stage found in soil.
  • Infective juveniles of both Steinernema and Heterorhabditis locate a host and enter through its natural body openings such as mouth, anus or spiracles.
  • Infective juveniles of Heterorhabditis also enter through the intersegmental members of the host cuticle.
  • Infective juveniles then actively penetrate through the midgut wall or tracheae into the insect body cavity (hemocoel) containing insect blood (haemolymph).
  • Once in the body cavity, infective juvenile releases symbiotic bacteria from its intestine in the insect haemolymph.
  • Bacteria start multiplying in the nutrient-rich haemolymph and infective juveniles recover from their arrested state (dauer stage) and start feeding on multiplying bacteria and disintegrated host tissues.
  • Toxins produced by the developing nematodes and multiplying bacteria in the body cavity kill the insect host usually within 48 hours.
  • These bacteria also produce a plethora of metabolites, toxins and antibiotics with bactericidal, fungicidal and nematicidal properties, which ensures monoxenic conditions for nematode development and reproduction in insect cadaver.
  • Heterorhabditid and Steinernematid nematodes differ in their mode of reproduction. For example, in heterorhabditid nematodes, the first generation individuals are produced by self-fertile hermaphrodites (hermaphroditic) but subsequent generation individuals are produced by cross fertilization involving males and females (amphimictic). In Steinernematid nematodes with an exception of one species, all generations are produced by cross fertilization involving males and females (amphimictic).
  • Depending on availability of food resource, both heterorhabditid and steinernematid nematodes generally complete 2-3 generations within insect cadaver and emerge as infective juveniles to seek new hosts.
  • Generally, life cycle of entomopathogenic nematodes (from infective juvenile penetration to infective juvenile emergence) is completed within 12- 15 days at room temperature. The optimum temperature for growth and reproduction of nematodes is between 25 and 300C.