Host Location and Selection Cues in a Generalist Tachinid Parasitoid

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Tachinid flies are diverse and ecologically important insect parasitoids. However, the means by which tachinid species locate and select hosts are poorly known. Many tachinids exhibit unusually wide host ranges and they also possess well-developed visual systems. These characteristics suggest that tachinids differ from parasitic wasps in their reliance on various sensory modes and types of cues. A series of behavioral assays using the generalist tachinid Exorista mella Walker (Diptera: Tachinidae) were conducted to examine what types of cues this parasitoid uses to locate and accept hosts, and how the cues used may reflect its ecological relationships with hosts. Female E. mella responded strongly to host motion in assays using both live hosts and host corpses, and this cue is shown to be an important elicitor of attack behavior. Females also responded to volatile chemicals associated with damaged food plants of their host in an olfactometer. Flies responded only weakly to direct visual contact with stationary hosts and odors directly associated with hosts. The behavior of female E. mella changed with experience such that more experienced flies recognized and attacked hosts more readily than did inexperienced flies. The use of general olfactory and visual cues by E. mella may be an effective strategy by this polyphagous parasitoid to locate a broad range of potential hosts.



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