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Insect communication

Parasitoid secretions provoke ant warfare

Subterfuge used by a rare wasp may be the key to an alternative type of pest control.

Abstract

Insect social parasites are extreme specialists that typically use mimicry or stealth to enter ant colonies to exploit the rich, but fiercely protected, resources within their nests1,2,3. Here we show how a parasitic wasp (parasitoid)4 contrives to reach its host, itself an endangered species of social parasite that lives inside the brood chambers of ant nests, by releasing semiochemicals to induce in-fighting between worker ants, locking the colony in combat and leaving it underprotected. Four of these chemicals are new to biology and have the potential to control pest species by inducing different agonistic behaviours in ants.

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Figure 1: Responses of Myrmica schencki ants to chemicals produced by the parasitoid wasp Ichneumon eumerus and to artificially synthesized chemicals.

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Correspondence to J. A. Thomas.

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Thomas, J., Knapp, J., Akino, T. et al. Parasitoid secretions provoke ant warfare. Nature 417, 505–506 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/417505a

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