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Competition of Males, Courtship Behaviour and Chemical Communication in the Digger Wasp Bembix Rostrata (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)

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The courtship and copulatory behaviour of Bembix rostrata was investigated in the field and in a greenhouse, particularly with respect to the female's attractiveness to males, which phenomenon seems to be of a chemical nature. 1. A survey of the inventory of the intersexual activities is given. Three successive stages are distinguished: a) Male swarming and copulation phase: The males appear first, they patrol over the nesting area often in swarms, sometimes several aggregate on the ground where they dig furiously. They dig for emerging conspecifics. If a female appears the males immediately try to copulate with her. Often one male (catches the female and) carries her away in flight, followed by a trail of other males. The females probably mate only once. b) Male swarming and female digging phase: A few days after emergence the females are engaged alternately in digging burrows and in feeding on flowers. In both activities patrolling males may interfere. They pounce upon the digging or feeding female. If she flies away a male follows, often joined by other males. Sometimes the female is pounced upon when in flight. The couple falls down, the other males follow, and a ball of males might be formed around the rejecting female. c) Female nestbuilding phase: About a week after emergence the female brings the first flies to the nest. Taking care of the brood is the dominating activity. The number of males is decreasing, but some are still active in pouncing and pursuing of females. 2. A small population of males and females was established in a greenhouse. After an adaptation time they behaved quite "normally". Many details of the pouncing and pursuing, catching and carrying, nestbuilding and brooding behaviour could be observed. In experiments in the greenhouse the attractiveness of females was tested. In a "catch-and-carry" choice test the males prefered trunks of females to trunks of males and they favoured trunks of virgin females or of females caught in copula over older females. In copulation choice tests females or female trunks were offered. The males tried to copulate preferably with virgin females or with females caught in copula, rather than with females caught when digging or carrying prey. 3. It is argued that males digging for emerging conspecifics may locate the site by a scent produced by a cephalic secretion of the emerging conspecifics. The experiments on sexual attractiveness indicate that males differentiate between males and females, and between virgin or freshly copulated females and older females, by means of chemical cues which may be associated with the trunk.

Affiliations: 1: Ecological Station of Uppsala University, Färjestaden, Sweden


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