Pesky Parasitoids, Part 3

First, another quick update on the leafminer book. Some people have asked if there’s a way to get it without recurring monthly payments, and/or by writing a check rather than going through Patreon. At the same time, Patreon recently announced that they’re about to start adding a service fee to every pledge. So I’ve come up with some new options, which you can check out on this page (scroll past the picture of the moth to see them). Anyone who has already signed up through Patreon is welcome to switch at any time, or to stay there if you’re happy with it.

And now for a little break from leafminers…  In our surveys on Nantucket, Julia and I have started to branch out to looking for other obscure herbivorous insects rather than just gallmakers and leafminers, with the thought that we’ll eventually stop finding new galls and leaf mines. Some of the things we’ve been focusing on lately have been micro-moth larvae that fold, roll, and tie leaves. On July 30, while walking around Stump Pond, we noticed a patch of bugleweed (Lamiaceae: Lycopus uniflorus) in which many of the leaves were curled downward laterally and nibbled toward the tips. These three photos are different views of the same leaf:


In that last photo, you can see that there’s a tube of silk within the leaf curl. Here’s a better look at one on another leaf:


There was a caterpillar in each leaf curl, but they all zipped back into the safety of their silk tubes before I could get any photos of them. We collected several to try and rear, but within five days, braconid wasp larvae started emerging from them—all of them—and spinning cocoons. At least braconids don’t devour their hosts very thoroughly, so I have a photo of a recently abandoned corpse that gives some idea of what the caterpillars looked like.


On August 15, an adult microgastrine braconid emerged from one of the cocoons. Note the neat circular lid it cut from the end of the cocoon when it emerged.


There were four other cocoons, but nothing else emerged until September 5. Then, over the next week, these little cuties emerged from three of the cocoons:


Unlike the braconid, they emerged through ragged holes in the cocoons:


These wasps belong to a species of Perilampus (Perilampidae), and they are obligate hyperparasitoids with an unusual way of locating their hosts. Instead of seeking out a suitable host larva in which to oviposit, the female lays her eggs on leaves. It is then up to the newly hatched larvae to wander in search of a parasitized caterpillar, burrow into it, locate the parasitoid larva (which might be a wasp or a tachinid fly), and burrow into that. The Perilampus larvae in my bugleweed caterpillars bided their time while the braconid larvae finished feeding and popped out and spun their cocoons; then they got around to devouring the braconid larvae or pupae, at which point they conveniently had ready-made cocoons in which to pupate. It all seems very improbable, but I guess it works for them!

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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5 Responses to Pesky Parasitoids, Part 3

  1. irisclearwater says:

    Wow, amazing. Thank you for opening up this world for me/us.

  2. Virginia says:

    Amazingly complex! And they really are cute! 🙂

  3. Thanks again! Do you have a system that enables you to take short video segments?

    • At this point, only on Julia’s camera, which I’ve attached my macro lens to just once–see the video at the bottom of this page (which does a pretty good job of illustrating the challenges of shooting video of something so tiny).

  4. stephe59 says:

    Very cool rear-out results, Charlie, and beautiful photos.

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