Host recognition by the specialist hoverfly Microdon mutabilis, a social parasite of the ant Formica lemani

Schonrogge, Karsten; Napper, Emma K. V.; Birkett, Michael A.; Woodcock, Christine M.; Pickett, John A.; Wadhams, Lester J.; Thomas, Jeremy A.. 2008 Host recognition by the specialist hoverfly Microdon mutabilis, a social parasite of the ant Formica lemani. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 34 (2). 168-178.

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The larva of the hoverfly Microdon mutabilis is a specialist social parasite of the ant Formica lemani that is adapted to local groups of F. lemani colonies but mal-adapted to colonies of the same species situated only a few hundred meters away. At a study site in Ireland, F. lemani shares its habitat with four other ant species. All nest under stones, making the oviposition choice by M. mutabilis females crucial to offspring survival. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that, as an extreme specialist, M. mutabilis should respond to cues derived from its host rather than from its microenvironment, a phenomenon that has hitherto only been addressed in the context of herbivorous insects and their parasitoids. In behavioral assays, M. mutabilis females reacted to volatiles from F. lemani colonies by extending their ovipositors, presumably probing for an oviposition substrate. This behavior was not observed toward negative controls or volatiles from colonies of Myrmica scabrinodis, the host ant of the closely related Microdon myrmicae. Coupled gas chromatography-electroantennography (GC-EAG) that used antennal preparations of M. mutabilis located a single physiologically active compound within an extract of heads of F. lemani workers. Coupled GC-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) tentatively identified the compound as a methylated methylsalicylate. GC co-injection of the extract with authentic samples showed that of the four possible isomers (methyl 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-methylsalicylate), only methyl 6-methylsalicylate co-eluted with the EAG-active peak. Furthermore, the response to methyl 6-methylsalicylate was four times higher than to those of the other isomers. Coupled GC-EAG and GC-MS also revealed physiological responses to two constituents, 3-octanone and 3-octanol, of the M. scabrinodis alarm pheromone. However, the behavioral trials did not reveal any behavior that could be attributed to these compounds. Results are discussed in the context of four phases of host location behavior, and of the characteristics, which volatile cues should provide to be useful for an extreme specialist such as M. mutabilis.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hails
ISSN: 0098-0331
Additional Keywords: Host/parasite interactions, Host recognition behavior, Syrphidae, Formicidae, EAG, GC, Methyl 6-methylsalicylate
NORA Subject Terms: Zoology
Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 08 May 2008 13:44 +0 (UTC)

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