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Dynamics of chemical mimicry in the social parasite wasp Polistes semenowi (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)

  • M. C. LORENZI (a1), R. CERVO (a2), F. ZACCHI (a2), S. TURILLAZZI (a2) and A.-G. BAGNÈRES (a3)...


Chemical cues are so important in the recognition mechanism of social insects that most social parasites (which rely on hosts to rear their brood) have been documented as overcoming the mechanism by which colony residents recognize non-nestmates, by mimicking the odour of the usurped colony. We simulated in the laboratory the process by which the obligate social parasite, Polistes semenowi, invades nests of the host species, Polistes dominulus, in the field and analysed the epicuticular lipid layer before and after host nest usurpation. The experiment documents that P. semenowi social parasites have an epicuticular hydrocarbon pattern which is very similar to that of their host but, after entering host colonies, parasites mimic the odour of the colonies they invade, to the point that they perfectly match the hydrocarbon profile peculiar to the colony they entered. However, both before and after host nest invasion, parasites show a tendency to possess diluted recognition cues with respect to their hosts.


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Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo, University of Turin, via Accademia Albertina 17, 10123 Torino, Italy. Tel: +39 011 6704737. Fax: +39 011 6704732. E-mail:


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