Nonfeeding infective juvenile (IJ) entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) are used as biological agents to control soil-dwelling insects, but poor storage stability remains an obstacle to their widespread acceptance by distributors and growers as well as a frustration to researchers. Age is one factor contributing to variability in EPN efficacy. We hypothesized that age effects on the infectiousness of IJs would be evident within the length of time necessary for IJs to infect a host. The penetration behavior of “young” (<1-wk-old) and “old” (2- to 4-wk-old) Heterorhabditis bacteriophora (GPS11 strain), Steinernema carpocapsae (All strain), and Steinernema feltiae (UK strain) IJs was evaluated during 5 “exposure periods” to the larvae of the wax moth, Galleria mellonella. Individual larvae were exposed to nematode-infested soil for exposure periods of 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 hr. Cadavers were dissected after 72 hr, and the IJs that penetrated the larvae were counted. Larval mortality did not differ significantly between 72- and 144-hr “observation periods,” or points at which larval mortality was noted, for any age class or species. However, age and species effects were noted in G. mellonella mortality and nematode penetration during shorter time periods. Initial mortality caused by S. carpocapsae and H. bacteriophora IJs declined with nematode age but increased with S. feltiae IJ age. Young S. carpocapsae IJs penetrated G. mellonella larvae at higher rates than old members of the species (27–45% vs. 1– 4%). Conversely, old S. feltiae IJs had higher penetration rates than young IJs (∼8 to 57% vs. 4 to ∼31%), whereas H. bacteriophora IJs had very low penetration rates regardless of age (3–5.6%). Our results show that the effect of age on IJ infectiousness can be detected in IJs aged only 2 wk by a 4-hr exposure period to G. mellonella. These results have important implications for storage and application of EPNs and suggest the possibility of shortening the time required to detect nematodes in the soil.
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