How to escape from the host nest: Imperfect chemical mimicry in eucharitid parasitoids and exploitation of the ants' hygienic behavior

Abstract : Communication in ants is based to a great extent on chemical compounds. Recognition of intruders is primarily based on cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profile matching but is prone to being cheated. Eucharitid wasps are specific parasitoids of the brood of ants; the immature stages are either well integrated within the colony or are protected within the host cocoons, whereas adult wasps at emergence must leave their host nest to reproduce and need to circumvent the ant recognition system to escape unscathed. The behavioral interactions between eucharitid wasps and workers of their host, the Neotropical ant Ectatomma tuberculatum, are characterized. In experimental bioassays, newly emerged parasitoids were not violently aggressed. They remained still and were grabbed by ants upon contact and transported outside the nest; host workers were even observed struggling to reject them. Parasitoids were removed from the nest within five minutes, and most were unharmed, although two wasps (out of 30) were killed during the interaction with the ants. We analyzed the CHCs of the ant and its two parasitoids, Dilocantha lachaudii and Isomerala coronata, and found that although wasps shared all of their compounds with the ants, each wasp species had typical blends and hydrocarbon abundance was also species specific. Furthermore, the wasps had relatively few CHCs compared to E. tuberculatum (22–44% of the host components), and these were present in low amounts. Wasps, only partially mimicking the host CHC profile, were immediately recognized as alien and actively removed from the nest by the ants. Hexane-washed wasps were also transported to the refuse piles, but only after being thoroughly inspected and after most of the workers had initially ignored them. Being recognized as intruder may be to the parasitoids' advantage , allowing them to quickly leave the natal nest, and therefore enhancing the fitness of these very short lived parasitoids. We suggest that eucharitids take advantage of the hygienic behavior of ants to quickly escape from their host nests.
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Gabriela Pérez-Lachaud, Juan Carlos Bartolo-Reyes, Leopoldo Cruz-López, Alain Lenoir, Jean-Paul Lachaud. How to escape from the host nest: Imperfect chemical mimicry in eucharitid parasitoids and exploitation of the ants' hygienic behavior. Journal of Insect Physiology, Elsevier, 2015, 75, pp. 63-72. ⟨10.1016/j.jinsphys.2015.03.003⟩. ⟨hal-01323307⟩



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