Parasitic wasps avoid ant-protected hemipteran hosts via the detection of ant cuticular hydrocarbons

Angelos Mouratidis, Sandra Vacas, Julieta Herrero, Vicente Navarro-Llopis, Marcel Dicke, Alejandro Tena*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


One of the most studied and best-known mutualistic relationships between insects is that between ants and phloem-feeding insects. Ants feed on honeydew excreted by phloem-feeding insects and, in exchange, attack the phloem feeders' natural enemies, including parasitic wasps. However, parasitic wasps are under selection to exploit information on hazards and avoid them. Here, we tested whether parasitic wasps detect the previous presence of ants attending colonies of phloem feeders. Behavioural assays demonstrate that wasps left colonies previously attended by ants more frequently than control colonies. This behaviour has a potential cost for the parasitic wasp as females inserted their ovipositor in fewer hosts per colony. In a further bioassay, wasps spent less time on papers impregnated with extracts of the ant cues than on control papers. Gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry analyses demonstrated that ants left a blend of cuticular hydrocarbons when they attended colonies of phloem feeders. These cuticular hydrocarbons are deposited passively when ants search for food. Overall, these results suggest, for the first time, that parasitic wasps of honeydew producers detect the previous presence of mutualistic ants through contact infochemicals. We anticipate such interactions to be widespread and to have implications in numerous ecosystems, as phloem feeders are usually tended by ants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201684
JournalProceedings. Biological sciences
Issue number1942
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2021


  • cuticular hydrocarbons
  • enemy avoidance
  • hazard cues
  • infochemicals
  • phloem-feeding insects


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