Characterization of a female-produced courtship pheromone in the parasitoid Nasonia vitripennis

J Chem Ecol. 2006 Aug;32(8):1687-702. doi: 10.1007/s10886-006-9102-3. Epub 2006 Aug 2.


Males of the parasitoid Nasonia vitripennis (Walker) (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae) show a characteristic courtship behavior. We demonstrate that male arrestment and key behavioral elements of the courtship sequence are mediated by a female-derived contact sex pheromone. Males were arrested on paper disks treated with female extracts but not on those treated with male extracts. Male responsiveness was influenced by the surface to which female extracts were applied. Extracts applied to an extracted beetle elytron arrested males more strongly than those applied to filter paper of comparable size. However, more complex behavioral elements, such as head nodding and copulation attempts, were shown only when extracts were applied to extracted male cadavers, suggesting that tactile or visual cues synergize the male response. The chemicals involved are stable, of low volatility, and nonpolar. Dead females arrested males and elicited courtship behavior for at least 8 d. Males showed no sign of attraction to live females at a distance of 3 cm in an olfactometer. Fractionation of female extracts demonstrated that the activity was exclusively located in the nonpolar fraction. Analysis of the active fraction by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed that cuticular hydrocarbons with chain lengths between 25 and 37 carbon units were present. Comparison of hydrocarbon profiles from males and females showed qualitative and quantitative differences. These results suggest that sex-specific cuticular hydrocarbons are the key signals mediating the male courtship behavior in N. vitripennis.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Drug Stability
  • Female
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Male
  • Pupa / physiology
  • Sex Attractants / chemistry
  • Sex Attractants / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Wasps / chemistry
  • Wasps / physiology*


  • Hydrocarbons
  • Sex Attractants