Is the bee louse Braula coeca (Diptera) using chemical camouflage to survive within honeybee colonies?
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The bee louse Braula coeca is a highly specialised flattened, wingless fly that spends its entire adult life on adult honeybees. It feeds by stealing food directly from bees during social feeding (trophallaxis). The Braula fly has a preference to infest the honeybee queen. The queen is the most attended individual in the colony but despite this the adult flies remain undetected by the workers. This is due to Braula possessing a cuticular hydrocarbon profile that mirrors that of their host honeybee colony, despite Diptera and Hymenoptera orders having separated over 290 million years ago. This chemical camouflage is most likely through odour acquisition from the honeybee host since even small colony-specific differences in the alkene isomer patterns present in the honeybees were also detected in the Braula’s profile. This finding further supports the idea that the honeybee recognition cues are contained within the alkene part of their hydrocarbon profile and Braula exploit this to remain undetected within an otherwise hostile colony.
KeywordsCuticular hydrocarbons Camouflage Braula Honeybees Alkenes
Thanks to Falko Drijfhout of Keele University for access to the GC-MS and Ricarda Kather of Sheffield University for helping maintaining the study colonies and comments on the manuscript.
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