Host choice in the phoretic mite Parasitellus fucorum (Mesostigmata: Parasitidae): which bumblebee caste is the best?
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Host caste recognition may be important for the dispersal of phoretic mites associated with social insects. All developmental stages of the mite Parasitellus fucorum (Acari: Mesostigmata: Parasitidae) live in the nests of bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombus). Dispersal occurs by specialised phoretic instars, deutonymphs, which attach to adult bumblebees. Since bumblebee colonies are annual and only young queens overwinter, deutonymphs that are able to discriminate between bumblebee castes and preferentially attach to queens should be favoured by selection. In the field, deutonymphs of P. fucorum were found to be phoretic on bumblebee workers and queens, and in behavioural experiments all castes proved to be attractive as carriers for the mites. However, they preferred queens that had hibernated as carriers when they could choose between workers and queens. In a further experiment, when given a choice, deutonymphs switched from males to young queens but never transferred from a queen to a male. These results suggest that deutonymphs preferentially attach to queens but may also use other castes for transport. Those dispersing on workers and males may try to switch to queens later. Host-switching is possible during copulation and on flowers, where bees of all castes forage.
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