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Oecologia. 2008 Jul;156(4):913-20. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1037-7. Epub 2008 Apr 29.

Virgins in the wild: mating status affects the behavior of a parasitoid foraging in the field.

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INRA, 400 Route des Chappes, 06903, Sophia Antipolis Cedex, France.


In haplodiploid organisms, virgin females can produce offspring, albeit only sons. They may therefore face a trade-off between either: (1) searching for hosts and producing sons immediately; or (2) searching for mates and perhaps producing both sons and daughters later in life. Although this trade-off raises a theoretical interest, it has not been approached experimentally. The objective of this article is thus to document the effect of mating status on the foraging behavior of a haplodiploid parasitoid. For this, we recorded the behavior of virgin and mated female Lysiphlebus testaceipes (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) after being released, in the field, on a colony of their aphid hosts. Half of the virgin females were mated by a wild male after less than 10 min of foraging. Evidently, virgin females attract males while foraging on host patches, so that the two activities are not mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, virgin females stayed motionless more often and for longer periods than mated females. Consequently, they attacked aphids at a lower rate, and in turn, attacked fewer aphids on each patch. Moreover, contrary to mated females, virgins did not aggregate their progeny on large patches. We conclude that in L. testaceipes, the trade-off may not be as hypothesized. By dispersing across patches more than mated females, virgins could promote future mating opportunities for their sons and increase their inclusive fitness. However, by moving too frequently, females may lose immediate mating opportunities for themselves and the immediate advantage of producing offspring of both sexes. The observed behavior of virgin L. testaceipes females on host patches could reflect an optimal solution to such a trade-off.

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