Chemical espionage on species-specific butterfly anti-aphrodisiacs by hitchhiking Trichogramma wasps

M.E. Huigens, J.B. Woelke, F.G. Pashalidou, T. Bukovinszky, H.M. Smid, N.E. Fatouros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Parasitic wasps employ a wide range of chemical cues to find their hosts. Very recently, we discovered how 2 closely related egg parasitoids, Trichogramma brassicae and Trichogramma evanescens, exploit the anti-aphrodisiac pheromone benzyl cyanide of one of their hosts, the gregarious large cabbage white butterfly Pieris brassicae that deposits a clutch of more than 20 eggs per oviposition bout. The pheromone is transferred by male butterflies to females during mating to enforce female monogamy. On detecting the anti-aphrodisiac, the tiny parasitic wasps ride on a mated female butterfly to a host plant and then parasitize her freshly laid eggs. The present study demonstrates that both wasp species similarly exploit the anti-aphrodisiac mixture of methyl salicylate and indole of another host, the more common solitary small cabbage white butterfly Pieris rapae that deposits only one egg at a time. Interestingly, this behavior is innate in T. brassicae, whereas T. evanescens learns it after one successful ride on a mated female butterfly. Moreover, we show that the wasps only respond to the anti-aphrodisiacs of the 2 cabbage white butterflies when the ubiquitous compounds are part of a complete mated female odor blend. Obviously, parasitic wasps use the sophisticated espionage-and-ride strategy to find eggs of different gregarious and solitary host species. From the wasps’ perspective there seems to be a trade-off between the abundance and egg-laying behavior of the butterflies. Our findings suggest that Pieris butterflies are under strong selective pressure to minimize the use of an anti-aphrodisiac.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-478
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • podisus-maculiventris hemiptera
  • weevil ceutorhynchus-assimilis
  • rape brassica-napus
  • sex-pheromone
  • oilseed rape
  • entomophagous insects
  • parasitic wasps
  • egg parasitoids
  • foraging behavior
  • infochemical use

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