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Concept: Hymenoptera


Queen monogamy is ancestral among bees, ants, and wasps (Order Hymenoptera), and the close relatedness that it generates within colonies is considered key for the evolution of eusociality in these lineages [1]. Paradoxically, queens of several eusocial species are extremely promiscuous [2], a derived behavior that decreases relatedness among workers and fitness gained from rearing siblings but benefits queens by enhancing colony productivity [3-9] and inducing workers to rear queens' sons instead of less related worker-derived males [10-13]. Selection for promiscuity would be especially strong if productivity in a singly inseminated queen’s colony declined because selfish workers invested in personal reproduction at the expense of performing tasks that contribute to colony productivity. We show in honey bees that workers' ovaries are more developed when queens are singly rather than multiply inseminated and that increasing ovary activation is coupled with reductions in task performance by workers and colony-wide rates of foraging and waggle-dance recruitment. Increased investment in reproductive physiology by selfish workers might result from greater incentive for them to favor worker-derived males or because low mating frequency signals a queen’s diminished quality or future fecundity. Either possibility fosters selection for queen promiscuity, revealing a novel benefit of it for eusocial insects.

Concepts: Reproduction, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Bee, Ant, Hymenoptera, Eusociality


Mutualism is a common and important ecological phenomenon characterized by beneficial interaction between two species. Red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren, tend honeydew-producing hemipteran insects and reduce the activity of these insects' enemies. Ant-hemipteran interactions frequently exert positive effects on the densities of hemipterans. We tested the hypothesis that ant tending can increase the densities of the mealybug, Phenacoccus solenopsis Tinsley (Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae), and reduce the densities of the mealybug’s predatory and parasitic enemies, the lady beetle, Menochilus sexmaculata Fabricius (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae), and the parasitoid wasp, Aenasius bambawalei Hayat (Hymenoptera: Encyrtidae). We found that more ants foraged on mealybug-infested hibiscus plants than on mealybug-free plants. The number of foraging ants on plants infested with high densities of mealybugs (62.5 ants per plant) was nearly six times that on mealybug-free plants (10.2 ants per plant). Experiment results showed that ant tending significantly increased the survival of mealybugs: if predatory and parasitic enemies were present, the survival of mealybugs tended by fire ants was higher than that in the absence of tending ants. Furthermore, this tending by fire ants significantly decreased the survival of lady beetle larvae. However, no apparent effect was observed on the survival of parasitoid.

Concepts: Insect, Symbiosis, Beetle, Ant, Hymenoptera, Parasitoid, Aphid, Mutualism


This study investigated the effects of ant attendance on the parasitoid community and parasitism of lac insect Kerria yunnanensis aggregations in Yunnan province, China. We manipulated ant attendance to establish three treatments: (1) ant exclusion; (2) low ant attendance by several ant species; and (3) high ant attendance by Crematogaster macaoensis. Five parasitoid species were collected, with two species contributing 82.7 and 13.2% of total abundance respectively. Total parasitoid abundance was lowest in the February sample when K. yunnanensis was in its younger life stage, being significantly lower in the ant exclusion treatment. In April, all three treatments had significantly different parasitoid abundances, being highest in the ant exclusion treatment and the lowest in the high ant attendance treatment. When ants were present, there were strong negative relationships between total parasitoid abundance and ant abundance, with the relationships being dependent upon the ant species composition and abundance. The patterns of total parasitoid abundance were driven by the two most abundant parasitoid species. Parasitoid species richness did not differ among treatments or between sample times, however, multivariate analysis confirmed that overall parasitoid community structure differed significantly among treatments and between sample times, with the high ant attendance treatment differing most from the other two treatments. Interestingly the absence of ants did not result in increased parasitism from four of the five parasitoids. Ants in lac insect farming systems have a clear role for agricultural pest management. A full understanding of the asymmetric abilities of ants to influence parasitoid communities, and affect parasitism of hosts will require further experimental manipulation to assess the relative roles of 1) the abundance of each individual ant species on parasitoid access to hosts, 2) competition among parasitoids, and 3) the interaction between the first two factors.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, Parasitism, Ant, Hymenoptera, Parasitoid, Apocrita, Pest


Social insects form densely crowded societies in environments with high pathogen loads, but have evolved collective defences that mitigate the impact of disease. However, colony-founding queens lack this protection and suffer high rates of mortality. The impact of pathogens may be exacerbated in species where queens found colonies together, as healthy individuals may contract pathogens from infectious co-founders. Therefore, we tested whether ant queens avoid founding colonies with pathogen-exposed conspecifics and how they might limit disease transmission from infectious individuals.

Concepts: Immune system, Medicine, Epidemiology, Bacteria, Evolution, Insect, Ant, Hymenoptera


The stinging wasps (Hymenoptera: Aculeata) are an extremely diverse lineage of hymenopteran insects, encompassing over 70,000 described species and a diversity of life history traits, including ectoparasitism, cleptoparasitism, predation, pollen feeding (bees [Anthophila] and Masarinae), and eusociality (social vespid wasps, ants, and some bees) [1]. The most well-studied lineages of Aculeata are the ants, which are ecologically dominant in most terrestrial ecosystems [2], and the bees, the most important lineage of angiosperm-pollinating insects [3]. Establishing the phylogenetic affinities of ants and bees helps us understand and reconstruct patterns of social evolution as well as fully appreciate the biological implications of the switch from carnivory to pollen feeding (pollenivory). Despite recent advancements in aculeate phylogeny [4-11], considerable uncertainty remains regarding higher-level relationships within Aculeata, including the phylogenetic affinities of ants and bees [5-7]. We used ultraconserved element (UCE) phylogenomics [7, 12] to resolve relationships among stinging-wasp families, gathering sequence data from >800 UCE loci and 187 samples, including 30 out of 31 aculeate families. We analyzed the 187-taxon dataset using multiple analytical approaches, and we evaluated several alternative taxon sets. We also tested alternative hypotheses for the phylogenetic positions of ants and bees. Our results present a highly supported phylogeny of the stinging wasps. Most importantly, we find unequivocal evidence that ants are the sister group to bees+apoid wasps (Apoidea) and that bees are nested within a paraphyletic Crabronidae. We also demonstrate that taxon choice can fundamentally impact tree topology and clade support in phylogenomic inference.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Cladistics, Bee, Wasp, Ant, Hymenoptera, Apocrita


Interspecific interactions between two larval parasitoids of Tuta absoluta (Meyrick) with partially overlapping host niches were studied: the idiobiont ectoparasitoid Dineulophus phthorimaeae De Santis, and the koinobiont endoparasitoid Pseudapanteles dignus (Muesebeck). T. absoluta is an important pest of tomato crops worldwide, and its management could be improved by understanding the competitive interactions and potential coexistence between these two parasitoids. Firstly, a 15-min fixed time laboratory test evaluated the host-searching ability of adult D. phthorimaeae and P. dignus wasps on T. absoluta larvae. Secondly, D. phthorimaeae host discrimination against endoparasitized and non-endoparasitized hosts by P. dignus, at different adult female ages, was experimentally examined. D. phthorimaeae wasps spent significantly more time in general searching in the presence of its competitor than in its absence, but, parasitism was only effective by P. dignus. Older D. phthorimaeae wasps discriminated significantly less than young wasps between T. absoluta larvae parasitized and unparasitized by P. dignus, and an interaction took place by non-concurrent host-feeding. Intra-guild predation of P. dignus larvae by D. phthorimaeae female feeding behaviour might have a minor effect in this system. Results are discussed in the context of literature supporting diverse evidence of coexistence in other parasitoid-host systems, with implications for T. absoluta biological control.

Concepts: Insect, Larva, Interspecific competition, Parasitism, Biological pest control, Hymenoptera, Parasitoid, Tuta absoluta


Apical serrations of the hymenopteran ovipositor have been widely postulated to originally constitute adaptations for cutting through hard substrates. Simplifications of the ovipositor tip have occurred in several ichneumonid wasp genera associated with spiders. Despite such reduction in Clistopyga (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae), the ovipositor still possesses some apical serrations. Through the first detailed study, we believe, on the behaviour of an ovipositing Clistopyga species, we show that it can alter its ovipositor for different purposes and that the primary function of the apical serrations is clinging to its spider host as the spider attempts to escape. Intriguingly, we also discover a hitherto undocumented adaptation for the hymenopteran ovipositor. The female wasp seals openings in the silken spider nest by using its ovipositor on the silk in a highly sophisticated way that is comparable to how humans entangle wool by needle felting. By studying the ovipositor morphology through a scanning electron microscope, we elucidate how this works, and we hypothesize that by closing the nest the female wasp protects its developing kin.

Concepts: Insect, Wasp, Hymenoptera, Silk, Spider silk, Spider, Wool, Ovipositor


Peptidoglycan recognition proteins (PGRPs) are a family of innate immune receptors that specifically recognize peptidoglycans (PGNs) on the surface of a number of pathogens. Here, we have identified and characterized six PGRPs from endoparasitoid wasp, Microplitis mediator (MmePGRPs). To understand the roles of PGRPs in parasitoid wasps, we analyzed their evolutionary relationship and orthology, expression profiles during different developmental stages, and transcriptional expression following infection with Gram-positive and -negative bacteria and a fungus. MmePGRP-S1 was significantly induced in response to pathogenic infection. This prompted us to evaluate the effects of RNA interference mediated gene specific knockdown of MmePGRP-S1. The knockdown of MmePGRP-S1 (iMmePGRP-S1) dramatically affected wasps' survival following challenge by Micrococcus luteus, indicating the involvement of this particular PGRP in immune responses against Gram-positive bacteria. This action is likely to be mediated by the Toll pathway, but the mechanism remains to be determined. MmePGRP-S1 does not play a significant role in anti-fungal immunity as indicated by the survival rate of iMmePGRP-S1 wasps. This study provides a comprehensive characterization of PGRPs in the economically important hymenopteran species M. mediator. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Gene expression, Bacteria, Virus, RNA, Innate immune system, Hymenoptera


For generalist parasitoids such as those belonging to the Genus Aphidius, the choice of host species can have profound implications for the emerging parasitoid. Host species is known to affect a variety of life history traits. However, the impact of the host on thermal tolerance has never been studied. Physiological thermal tolerance, enabling survival at unfavourable temperatures, is not a fixed trait and may be influenced by a number of external factors including characteristics of the stress, of the individual exposed to the stress, and of the biological and physical environment. As such, the choice of host species is likely to also have implications for the thermal tolerance of the emerging parasitoid. The current study aimed to investigate the effect of cereal aphid host species (Sitobion avenae, Rhopalosiphum padi and Metopolophium dirhodum) on adult thermal tolerance, in addition to sex and size, of the aphid parasitoids Aphidius avenae, Aphidius matricariae and Aphidius rhopalosiphi. Results revealed no effect of host species on the cold tolerance of the emerging parasitoid, as determined by CTmin and Chill Coma, for all parasitoid species. Host species significantly affected the size of the emerging parasitoid for A. rhopalosiphi only, with individuals emerging from R. padi being significantly larger than those emerging from S. avenae, although this did not correspond to a difference in thermal tolerance. Furthermore, a significant difference in the size of male and female parasitoids was observed for A. avenae and A. matricariae, although, once again this did not correspond to a difference in cold tolerance. It is suggested that potential behavioural thermoregulation via host manipulation may act to influence the thermal environment experienced by the wasp and thus wasp thermal tolerance and, in doing so, may negate physiological thermal tolerance or any impact of the aphid host.

Concepts: Biology, Life, Natural environment, Temperature, Affect, Hymenoptera, Trait, Apocrita


The evolution of powered flight is a major innovation that has facilitated the success of insects. Previously, studies of birds, bats, and insects have detected molecular signatures of differing selection regimes in energy-related genes associated with flight evolution and/or loss. Here, using DNA sequences from more than 1000 nuclear and mitochondrial protein-coding genes obtained from insect transcriptomes, we conduct a broader exploration of which gene categories display positive and relaxed selection at the origin of flight as well as with multiple independent losses of flight. We detected a number of categories of nuclear genes more often under positive selection in the lineage leading to the winged insects (Pterygota), related to catabolic processes such as proteases, as well as splicing-related genes. Flight loss was associated with relaxed selection signatures in splicing genes, mirroring the results for flight evolution. Similar to previous studies of flight loss in various animal taxa, we observed consistently higher nonsynonymous-to-synonymous substitution ratios in mitochondrial genes of flightless lineages, indicative of relaxed selection in energy-related genes. While oxidative phosphorylation genes were not detected as being under selection with the origin of flight specifically, they were most often detected as being under positive selection in holometabolous (complete metamorphosis) insects as compared with other insect lineages. This study supports some convergence in gene-specific selection pressures associated with flight ability, and the exploratory analysis provided some new insights into gene categories potentially associated with the gain and loss of flight in insects.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Metabolism, Insect, Bat, Hymenoptera, Flying and gliding animals, Endopterygota