Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Chemically camouflaged wasps

18.12.2015

A special camouflage allows parasitic wasps to raid the nests of host species. The affected hosts seem to have responded to that in the course of evolution as Würzburg biologists report.

Certain wasp species behave similar to cuckoos: They intrude into other nests, destroy the offspring, deposit their own eggs and leave their larvae to feed on the host's food provisions. Actually, the involuntary hosts are supposed to detect the intruders: All insects are covered by a layer of cuticular hydrocarbon molecules that always leave a "scent trail" behind. But the parasitic wasps are camouflaged efficiently: Mimicking their hosts' scent profile, they become invisible.


Three parasitic species of cuckoo wasps at the same time have targeted the food provisions in the nests of mason wasps.

Pictures: Oliver Niehuis, ZFMK Bonn

Professor Thomas Schmitt from the University of Würzburg's Biocenter is studying a particular case of parasitic wasps: The spiny mason wasp (Odynerus spinipes) is native to Central Europe. It is a solitary wasp species that builds its nests in the ground and serves as a host to three species of cuckoo wasps at the same time. That is unusual since the parasitic relationships of cuckoo wasps usually involve exactly one parasite for one host.

Results published with the Royal Society

How can the three-parasite system work without them getting into the way of one another? Schmitt and his Ph.D. student Mareike Wurdack looked into this question and discovered something unexpected in the host wasps' camouflage. The results have been published in the magazine "Proceedings of the Royal Society".

One of the three parasitic cuckoo wasp species (Chrysis viridula) goes its very own way: It waits until the mason wasp has laid its eggs, supplied food provisions and sealed the nest. The offspring will develop independently; the owner of the nest never returns. This means the way is free for the parasitic wasp: It digs up the nest and lays its eggs inside. This strategy does not require any camouflaging and consequently this cuckoo wasp's hydrocarbon profile clearly differs from that of the mason wasp.

Two different types of camouflage deceive the same host

The other two cuckoo wasp species (Chrysis mediata, Pseudospinolia neglecta) take a different approach. Entering the host nest before it is sealed, they and their eggs go undetected, because they have the same "body odour" as the owner of the nest. At this point, the Würzburg biologists discovered something baffling: The two parasites do not have the same body scent, rather they differ significantly.

So the scientists checked the hydrocarbon profiles of the mason wasps and found that they, too, had two "chemotypes": "The hosts produce either the one or the other type and the parasites have specialised accordingly," says Schmitt. This finding was confirmed in all three areas the biologists studied: near Würzburg, at the Kaiserstuhl hills near Freiburg and in the Palatinate.

Theory of the evolution of chemical camouflaging

"Our results back the theory that the similarity of the hydrocarbon profiles of cuckoo wasps and their hosts are caused by chemical camouflaging," says Mareike Wurdack. "We also assume that a second chemotype developed in the mason wasp during evolution with the goal to escape parasitic infestation," Schmitt explains. Too bad for the wasp that another parasite adjusted to this evasive strategy.

Teaming up with Oliver Niehuis from Bonn (Research Museum Koenig / Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity), Thomas Schmitt will investigate whether this evolutionary-biological scenario and the molecular mechanisms for creating the chemotypes are true in the next three years. The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG) has recently approved a corresponding application by the two scientists.

Striking cuticular hydrocarbon dimorphism in the mason wasp Odynerus spinipes and its possible evolutionary cause (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae, Vespidae): Mareike Wurdack, Sina Herbertz, Daniel Dowling, Johannes Kroiss, Erhard Strohm, Hannes Baur, Oliver Niehuis, and Thomas Schmitt. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 16 December 2015, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1777

Thomas Schmitt’s website: http://www.zoo3.biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de/team/schmitt

Contact

Mareike Wurdack, Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmitt, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III), University of Würzburg, Phone +49 931 31-84188, thomas.schmitt@uni-wuerzburg.de

Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New printing technique uses cells and molecules to recreate biological structures
20.02.2018 | Queen Mary University of London

nachricht In living color: Brightly-colored bacteria could be used to 'grow' paints and coatings
20.02.2018 | University of Cambridge

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Major discovery in controlling quantum states of single atoms

20.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

New printing technique uses cells and molecules to recreate biological structures

20.02.2018 | Life Sciences

New tech for commercial Lithium-ion batteries finds they can be charged 5 times fast

20.02.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>