Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Host detection by chemically mediated associative learning in a parasitic wasp


Parasitic insects use chemical cues to locate their hosts, and prior experiences can modify their responses to these odours1–4. Females of the parasitic wasp Microplitis croceipes experienced by contact with host faeces, orient and fly upwind to odours from their hosts, larvae of the moth Heliothis zea5. We use flight tunnel studies to show that associative learning occurs during encounters with host faeces. When females touch the faeces with their antennae they learn to recognize and subsequently fly to various volatile odours, even novel and otherwise unattractive odours like vanilla, associated with the faeces. They link these volatile odours with a water extractable nonvolatile chemical in the faeces, evidently a host-specific recognition cue. The association of tracking cues with host by-products, without the need for direct contact with the host, is a valuable adaptation for locating cryptic and evasive hosts.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Arthur, A. P. in Semiochemicals, Their Role in Pest Control (eds Nordlund, D. A., Jones, R. L. & Lewis, W. J.) 97–120 (Wiley, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Vet, L. E. M. Neth. J. Zool. 33, 225–248 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Vet, L. E. M. & van Opzeeland, K. Oecologia 63, 171–177 (1984).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Vet, L. E. M. & van Opzeeland, K. Neth. J. Zool. 35, 497–504 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Drost, Y. C., Lewis, W. J., Zanen, P. O. & Keller, M. A. J. chem. Ecol. 12, 1247–1262 (1986).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Palmerino, C. C., Rusiniak, K. W. & Garcia, J. Science 208, 753–755 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Nordlund, D. A. in Semiochemicals, Their Role in Pest Control (eds Nordlund, D. A., Jones, R. L. & Lewis, W. J.) 13–28 (Wiley, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Jones, R. L., Lewis, W. J., Bowman, M. C., Beroza, M. & Bierl, B. A. Science 173, 842–843 (1971).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Papaj, D. R. Anim. Behav. 34, 1281–1288 (1986).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Papaj, D. R. & Prokopy, R. J. J. chem. Ecol. 12, 1125–1143 (1986).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Traynier, R. M. M. Physiol. Entomol. 9, 465–472 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Vinson, S. B., Barfield, C. S. & Henson, R. D. Physiol. Entomol. 2, 157–164 (1977).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lewis, W. J. & Burton, R. L. J. econ. Entomol. 63, 656–658 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lewis, W., Tumlinson, J. Host detection by chemically mediated associative learning in a parasitic wasp. Nature 331, 257–259 (1988).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing