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.

Insect communication

Parasitoid secretions provoke ant warfare

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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


  1. Elmes, G. W., Barr, B., Thomas, J. A. & Clarke, R. T. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 266, 447–453 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E. O. The Ants (Springer, Berlin, 1990).

  3. Dettner, K. & Liepert, C. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 39, 129–154 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Godfray, H. C. J. Parasitoids (Princeton Univ. Press, 1994).

  5. Thomas, J. A. & Elmes, G. W. Anim. Behav. 45, 593–602 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Akino, T., Knapp, J. J., Thomas, J. A. & Elmes, G. W. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 266, 1419–1426 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Sledge, M. F. et al. J. Insect Physiol. 46, 753–761 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wilson, E. O. & Bosert, W. H. Recent Progr. Hormone Res. 19, 673–716 (1963).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Billen, J. & Morgan, E. D. in Pheromone Communication in Social Insects (eds Vander Meer, R. K., Breed, M. D., Winston, M. L. & Espelie, K. E.) 3–33 (Westview, Colorado, 1998).

  10. Klotz, J. H., Greenberg, L., Shorey, H. H. & Williams, D. F. J. Agri. Entomol. 14, 249–257 (1997).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Lawton, J. H. Ecol. Entomol. 26, 225–226 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. A. Thomas.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Thomas, J., Knapp, J., Akino, T. et al. Parasitoid secretions provoke ant warfare. Nature 417, 505–506 (2002).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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