A Strepsipteran parasite extends the lifespan of workers in a social wasp

Laura Beani* (Corresponding Author), Romano Dallai, Federico Cappa, Fabio Manfredini, Marco Zaccaroni, Maria Cristina Lorenzi, David Mercati

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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In social wasps, female lifespan depends on caste and colony tasks: workers usually live a few weeks while queens as long as 1 year. Polistes dominula paper wasps infected by the strepsipteran parasite Xenos vesparum avoid all colony tasks, cluster on vegetation where parasite dispersal and mating occur, hibernate and infect the next generation of wasp larvae. Here, we compared the survival rate of infected and uninfected wasp workers. Workers’ survival was significantly affected by parasite sex: two-third of workers parasitized by a X. vesparum female survived and overwintered like future queens did, while all workers infected by a X. vesparum male died during the summer, like uninfected workers that we used as controls. We measured a set of host and parasite traits possibly associated with the observed lifespan extension. Infected overwintering workers had larger fat bodies than infected workers that died in the summer, but they had similar body size and ovary development. Furthermore, we recorded a positive correlation between parasite and host body sizes. We hypothesize that the manipulation of worker’s longevity operated by X. vesparum enhances parasite’s fitness: if workers infected by a female overwinter, they can spread infective parasite larvae in the spring like parasitized gynes do, thus contributing to parasite transmission.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7235
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • coevolution
  • zoology


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