Fire ant venom alkaloids act as key attractants for the parasitic phorid fly, Pseudacteon tricuspis (Diptera: Phoridae)
The phorid fly, Pseudacteon tricuspis Borgmeier, is an introduced parasitoid of imported fire ants, Solenopsis spp., in the USA. Although the assumption that phorid flies use fire ant alarm pheromones for host location is probably true, we demonstrated in a previous study the possible involvement of other ant semiochemicals in the response of P. tricuspis to fire ants. This study was conducted to determine the glandular sources and identity of the semiochemicals mediating this interaction. First, we tested the electroantennogram response of P. tricuspis to extracts of key body parts and glands of workers of the red imported fire ant, S. invicta Buren. The results confirm that the poison (venom) gland/sac is the key source of compounds which elicited strong antennal activity in P. tricuspis. Follow-up studies were conducted by using a combination of bioassay-guided fractionation and behavioral bioassays to test the hypothesis that attraction of this parasitoid to fire ants is mediated by venom alkaloids. The results confirm the response of P. tricuspis to physiologically relevant amounts of the two venom alkaloid fractions (cis and trans alkaloid fractions) of S. invicta. Further analysis by coupled gas chromatography–electroantennogram detection revealed nine venom alkaloid components including two novel 2,6-dialkylpiperideines that elicited significant antennal activity in P. tricuspis. This is the first demonstration of the role of venom alkaloids of ants as attractants for their natural enemies. We propose a semiochemical-mediated host location mechanism for P. tricuspis involving both alarm pheromones and venom alkaloids. The ecological significance of these findings, including the attraction of male P. tricuspis to fire ant venom alkaloids, possibly for mate location, is discussed.