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The hunter becomes the hunted: when cleptobiotic insects are captured by their target ants

Écologie des Forêts de Guyane (UMR-CNRS 8172), CNRS, Campus Agronomique, Kourou cedex, France.
Naturwissenschaften (Impact Factor: 1.97). 02/2012; 99(4):265-73. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-012-0895-3
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Here we show that trying to rob prey (cleptobiosis) from a highly specialized predatory ant species is risky. To capture prey, Allomerus decemarticulatus workers build gallery-shaped traps on the stems of their associated myrmecophyte, Hirtella physophora. We wondered whether the frequent presence of immobilized prey on the trap attracted flying cleptoparasites. Nine social wasp species nest in the H. physophora foliage; of the six species studied, only Angiopolybia pallens rob prey from Allomerus colonies. For those H. physophora not sheltering wasps, we noted cleptobiosis by stingless bees (Trigona), social wasps (A. pallens and five Agelaia species), assassin bugs (Reduviidae), and flies. A relationship between the size of the robbers and their rate of capture by ambushing Allomerus workers was established for social wasps; small wasps were easily captured, while the largest never were. Reduviids, which are slow to extract their rostrum from prey, were always captured, while Trigona and flies often escaped. The balance sheet for the ants was positive vis-à-vis the reduviids and four out of the six social wasp species. For the latter, wasps began by cutting up parts of the prey's abdomen and were captured (or abandoned the prey) before the entire abdomen was retrieved so that the total weight of the captured wasps exceeded that of the prey abdomens. For A. pallens, we show that the number of individuals captured during attempts at cleptobiosis increases with the size of the Allomerus' prey.

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