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 54: 567-573.
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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