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Male Courtship Behaviour, Female Receptivity Signal, and Size Differences Between the Sexes in Pteromalinae (Hym., Chalcidoidea Pteromalidae), and Comparative Notes On Other Chalcidoids

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

In the evolutionary history of the Pteromalidae, the position of the courting male has moved from the rear (the area where copulation will take place) to the front (the area where an exchange of stimuli between partners may occur most efficiently). The shift of position is related to a number of other developments, one of which is the antennal receptivity signal by the female. The effect of this signal is that the male stops courting, leaves the frontal position by backing up on the female, and establishes a genital contact (VAN DEN ASSEM, 1974). In the present paper I have argued that, once a frontal position for courtship has been realised, and female receptivity can be perceived by the male at the front, a further reduction of the size of the male seems advantageous. Small males are found in many groups of Chalcidoidea including the Pteromalinae. In several species of this subfamily the size differences between the sexes are considerable. In a gregarious parasite, small males take a smaller share of the host which leaves more food for their sisters whose average reproductive success seems to be proportional to their longivity (which, within limits, is proportional to body size as adult). Small-sized males are likewise advantageous in solitary parasites: a small host (e.g. a young instar) may be insufficient as a food source for a female offspring, to complete its development, but sufficient for a male. A discriminative parasite will lay unfertilised eggs on small hosts and fertilised eggs on large hosts. In this way the number of hosts available in a certain area to a parasitising parent becomes greater and hence searching for hosts more successful. (It is true that a small instar will become larger with time, if left undisturbed, but a delay of egg-laying will certainly result in losses due to the competitive activity of other parasites, conspecifics or otherwise). Additional advantages of small males are the more rapid development, which ensures a timely presence where females come to emerge a little later. Further, a smaller body size had no effect on the duration of a courtship sequence required to induce receptivity in virgin females. The reduction of male body size also has negative effects: a limitation of the number of possible inseminations, a reduction of longivity, and an increased vulnerability to competing conspecific males (who may "steal" a copulation) are the most obvious ones. The advantages and disadvantages of size reduction were discussed. Courtship behaviour of Pteromalus venustus was described and two other species, Pteromalus puparum and Muscidifurax uniraptor were dealt with in detail because of their peculiarities. In P. puparum the antennal movements made by the receptive female no longer seem to serve a signal function (although they are completely identical to those of other Pteromalinae). I argued that this ineffectiveness is a secondary phenomenon, due to the peculiar behaviour of the male which may be an adaptation to oppose strong competition for females. In M. uniraptor males are extremely rare, and they no longer serve a reproductive function. Virgin females lay diploid eggs which produce female offspring exclusively. Morever, males (who may arise as progeny of females who were exposed to high temperatures during oviposition) appear to have retained a normal courtship. Conspecific females, however, were never seen to respond to it, but females of a related species (M. raptorellus) did signal receptivity when courted by uniraptor males. Fertilisation did not occur because uniraptor-mated raptorellus females produced only male offspring. A few courtship repertoires of Encyrtidae were described. To all appearances the evolution of courtship behaviour of Pteromalidae, Encyrtidae, and Eulophidae exhibits parallel developments.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Leiden, The Netherlands


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