Interactions of the European beewolf and the cuckoo wasp Hedychrum rutilans

The cuckoo wasp Hedychrum rutilans is a specialized parasitoid of the beewolf genus Philanthus. Females of the cuckoo wasp either pounce on beewolf females homing with honeybee prey and oviposit on the honeybee transported by the female or they enter the beewolf nest and lay an egg on a honeybee that is temporarily couched in the main burrow of the beewolf nest. The cuckoo wasp larva kills the beewolf larva and additionally feeds on the honeybees serving as provisions for the beewolf larva.

We are specifically interested in the significance of the cuticular hydrocarbons for the interactions of both species.

H. rutilans females imitate the composition of the cuticular hydrocarbons of its host (i.e. chemical mimicry). We were able to show that this allows the cuckoo wasps to enter the beewolf nest without being recognized by the nest owner. This is the first example of a parasitoid of a solitary host, which employs chemical mimicry.

Apart from qualitative aspects of cuticular hydrocarbons, we are interested in quantitative strategies of the cuckoo wasps to evade detection by the host.

Furthermore, we are studying the significance of nest-hydrocarbons of the European beewolf as a kairomone for olfactory host-location.


Hedychrum rutilans female




Kroiss J, Schmitt T, Strohm E (in press). Low level of cuticular hydrocarbons in a parasitoid of a solitary digger wasp and its potential for concealment. Entomological Science.

Kroiss J, Bordon S, Strohm E (2008). Hydrocarbons in the nest material of a solitary digger wasp represent a kairomone for a specialized cuckoo wasp. Animal Behaviour 76: 1555-1563.

Kroiss J (2008). Chemische Tarnkappe bei einem spezialisierten Brutparasiten des Bienenwolfs. Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau 61 (4): 191-193

Strohm E, Kroiss J, Herzner G, Laurien-Kehnen C, Boland W, Schreier P, Schmitt T (2008). A cuckoo in wolves' clothing? Chemical mimicry in a specialized cuckoo wasp of the European beewolf (Hymenoptera, Chrysididae and Crabronidae). Frontiers in Zoology 5:2.

Strohm E, Laurien-Kehnen C, Bordon S (2001). Escape from parasitism: spatial and temporal strategies of a sphecid against a specialised cuckoo wasp. Oecologia 129: 50-57

Foto Johannes Kroiss