Mechanisms of ovipositor insertion and steering of a parasitic wasp

U. Cerkvenik*, Bram van de Straat, S.W.S. Gussekloo, J.L. van Leeuwen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)


Drilling into solid substrates with slender beam-like structures is a mechanical challenge, but is regularly done by female parasitic wasps. The wasp inserts her ovipositor into solid substrates to deposit eggs in hosts, and even seems capable of steering the ovipositor while drilling. The ovipositor generally consists of three longitudinally connected valves that can slide along each other. Alternative valve movements have been hypothesized to be involved in ovipositor damage avoidance and steering during drilling. However, none of the hypotheses have been tested in vivo. We used 3D and 2D motion analysis to quantify the probing behavior of the fruit-fly parasitoid Diachasmimorpha longicaudata (Braconidae) at the levels of the ovipositor and its individual valves. We show that the wasps can steer and curve their ovipositors in any direction relative to their body axis. In a soft substrate, the ovipositors can be inserted without reciprocal motion of the valves. In a stiff substrate, such motions were always observed. This is in agreement with the damage avoidance hypothesis of insertion, as they presumably limit the overall net pushing force. Steering can be achieved by varying the asymmetry of the distal part of the ovipositor by protracting one valve set with respect to the other. Tip asymmetry is enhanced by curving of ventral elements in the absence of an opposing force, possibly due to pretension. Our findings deepen the knowledge of the functioning and evolution of the ovipositor in hymenopterans and may help to improve man-made steerable probes.
Diachasmimorpha longicaudata
ovipositor kinematics
buckling avoidance
spatial probing
minimally invasive probe
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E7822-E7831
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Buckling avoidance
  • Diachasmimorpha longicaudata
  • Minimally invasive probe
  • Ovipositor kinematics
  • Spatial probing


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