Chemical Usurpation of a Nest by Paper Wasp Parasites

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Science  10 May 1996:
Vol. 272, Issue 5263, pp. 889-892
DOI: 10.1126/science.272.5263.889


The paper wasp Polistes atrimandibularis is an obligatory social parasite of another Polistes species, P. biglumis bimaculatus. To control the host nest, the parasite sequentially changes the composition of its chemical signature, the cuticular hydrocarbons, during the colonial cycle. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry of the cuticular hydrocarbons at every stage of the cycle showed that the parasite can switch on and off an entire chemical family, namely, the unsaturated hydrocarbons. In this way the parasite can match the host signature at a critical moment of the colonial cycle.