, Volume 87, Issue 2, pp 227-232

Endoparasitic flies, pollen-collection by bumblebees and a potential host-parasite conflict

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Conopid flies (Conopidae, Diptera) are common larval parasites of bumblebees. The larva develops inside the abdomen of workers, queens and males. Development is completed within 10–12 days after oviposition when the host is killed and the parasite pupates in situ. Development results in parasitised bees becoming unable to carry large loads of nectar, as the conopid larvae reside where the honey crop is normally located. Furthermore, an addition to the bee's unloaden body mass is likely (average larval weight reached at pupation by the common parasite species Sicus ferrugineus: ±SD 36.3±12.3 mg, n=59; by Physocephala rufipes: 55.8±16.9 mg, n=108). We here asked whether the propensity of workers of the bumblebee Bombus pascuorum to collect nectar rather than pollen is related to the presence of conopid larvae. For samples of bees (n=2254 workers) collected over 3 years of field studies in northwestern Switzerland, there was no difference in the frequency of bees caught as pollen collectors among parasitised (38.1% of cases, n=210) as compared to non-parastised bees (43.9%, n=360) (χ 2=1.83, n.s.). However, compared to the non-parasitised bees (n=360), those hosts containing a third (last) instar larva (n=9) were less likely to collect pollen than expected by chance χ 2=6.91, P=0.003. Similarly, hosts with short survival time between capture and being killed by the developing larva (which hence must have harboured a late instar parasite at time of capture) were less likely to collect pollen (8%, n=25) than those found not parasitised (37.6%, n=891 χ 2=9.16, P<0.001). Late instar larvae grow so big that they fill the entire abdomen. Although there was also a tendency for presumably older bees to collect less pollen, this is unlikely to explain the observations. We also discuss whether these changes in foraging behaviour of bumblebees may reflect a host-parasite conflict over the type of resource to be collected.