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The courtship behavior of Nasonia has
several features that make it an interesting and practical subject for research
and teaching. First, courtship occurs quickly. Virgin males and females usually
commence courtship within a couple of minutes of being put together and courtship
and mating then typically takes under one minute. This makes it practical
for observing in the classroom environment and for quantifying behaviors.
Second, the courtship involves stereotypic behaviors of males and females
that can be readily measured. Third, the three species of Nasonia differ
in their courtship behavior (Assem & Werren 1994), and these can be used
to teach principles of the role of behavior in speciation. There are also
intraspecific and interspecific differences in female willingness to mate
with males of the same or different species (Bordenstein et al. 2000). A number
of interesting studies of courtship behavior have been conducted in N.
vitripennis (see Assem references, e.g. Assem et al.1980). The role of
the different courtship components and pheremones in interspecific mate discrimination
has not been determined, but is a tractable topic for study.
Courtship of N. longicornis is shown
on the video clip above. The male has already mounted the female and begun
the stereotypic courtship display (Assem and Werren 1994). A single cycle
of the stereotypic courtship display consists of antennal sweep, large head
nods (at which time the male releases a pheromone onto the female's antennae,
small head nods and pause. Wing vibrations and leg movements can also occur
during the display. The cycle is repeated until the female either signals
receptivity (by dropping her antennae and expanding her abdomen in a characteristic
triangular shape) or the male gives up and walks away.
The video clip commences in the middle of the
first courtship cycle. The male is performing the low intensity head nods
that occur in this species. He then performs an antennal sweep (difficult
to see because of the edge of the container) and then the large head nods.
The female signals receptivity and the male backs up and they copulate. The
male then performs the post-copulatory display. In this, he repeats the courtship
until the female signals receptivity again. This male performs the behavior
twice before leaving (the male does not copulate with the female). The post-copulatory
display is believed to inhibit females from copulating with other males. The
male then marks the substrate with a pheromone that indicates the location
of receptive females. This mark is attractive to him and helps to maintain
him in the area.
Other interesting behaviors occur when multiple
males and females are combined (e.g sneaker behavior), when wasps are observed
naturally emerging from hosts (e.g. aggression and territoriality), or when
heterospecific combinations are used.
Assem, J. van den and J.H. Werren. 1994. A comparison of the courtship and
mating behavior of three species of Nasonia (Hym., Pteromalidae). J.
Insect Behav. 7:53-66.
Bordenstein, S.R., M. Drapeau and J.H. Werren. 2000. Intraspecific variation
in interspecific premating isolation between two Nasonia species. Evolution
Assem, J. van den, Jachmann, F. and Simbolotti, P. 1980. Courtship behaviour
of Nasonia vitripennis (Hym., Pteromalidae): Some qualitative, experimental
evidence for the role of pheromones. Behaviour 75: 301-307.
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