The metabolic costs of fighting and host exploitation in a seed-drilling parasitic wasp

Romain P. Boisseau, H. Arthur Woods, Marlene Goubault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oviposition sites may be challenging and energetically costly to access for females in the presence of competitors contesting that resource. Additionally, oviposition sites may be difficult to reach, and penetrating a hard substrate can raise energy costs. In the seeddrilling parasitic wasp Eupelmus vuilleti, females actively fight with conspecific competitors over access to hosts. They are often observed laying eggs on already parasitized hosts (superparasitism) living inside cowpea seeds despite the resulting larval competition. Using flow-through respirometry, we quantified the metabolic costs of fighting and of drilling through the seed to access the host, to understand the wasp's fighting strategies and the occurrence of superparasitism. Agonistic interactions such as kicks or pushes generated very small instantaneous costs, but the females that won their contests had higher pre-contest metabolic rates, suggesting a potential long-term cost associated with dominance. We also found that drilling holes through the seed accounted for approximately 15% of a wasp's estimated daily energy budget, and that females can reduce these drilling costs by reusing existing holes. Because exploiting new seeds incurs both drilling costs and the risk of fights, it appears cost effective in some situations for females to avoid confrontations and lay eggs in existing holes, on already parasitized hosts. Our study helps explain the evolution of superparasitism in this system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3955-3966
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Contest resolution
  • Eupelmus vuilleti
  • Flow-through respirometry
  • Oviposition costs
  • Resource holding potential
  • Resource value


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