Behavioural flexibility of the chemical defence in the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina heterotoma


Many insects use chemical defence mechanisms to defend themselves against predators. However, defensive secretions are costly to produce and should thus only be used in cases of real danger. This would require that insects are able to discriminate between predators to adjust their chemical defence. Here, we show that females of the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina heterotoma adjust the intensity of their chemical defence to differently sized predators. If attacked by Myrmica ants, the females always released their defensive secretion, which consists mainly of (−)-iridomyrmecin. However, if attacked by smaller Cardiocondyla ants, most females did not release any defensive spray, irrespective of the duration of the ant’s aggression. When in contact with non-aggressive Nasonia wasps, the females of L. heterotoma did not release any defensive secretion. Our data show that females of L. heterotoma are able to discriminate between two predators and suggest that a predator of a certain size or strength is necessary to trigger the chemical defence mechanism of L. heterotoma.

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We thank Michael Brummer for rearing the wasps, and Alexandra Schrempf and Balint Marko for providing the colonies of C. obscurior and M. scabrinodis, respectively. This study was funded by a grant of the German Research Council (DFG, STO 966/1-1).

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Correspondence to Johannes Stökl.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Stökl, J., Machacek, Z. & Ruther, J. Behavioural flexibility of the chemical defence in the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina heterotoma . Sci Nat 102, 67 (2015).

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  • Iridomyrmecin
  • Allomone
  • Parasitoid wasp
  • Ant
  • Figitidae