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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Bad housekeeping: why do aphids leave their exuviae inside the colony?

Frédéric B Muratori1*, David Damiens1, Thierry Hance1 and Guy Boivin23

Author Affiliations

1 Unité d'écologie et biogéographie, Centre de recherche sur la biodiversité, Université catholique de Louvain, croix du sud, 4, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

2 Centre de Recherche et de Développement en Horticulture, Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada, Boul. Gouin, 430, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, J3B 3E6 Québec, Canada

3 Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University, 21111 Lakeshore Road, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, H9X 3V9 Québec, Canada

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:338  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-338

Published: 19 December 2008



Animals can gain protection against predators and parasites by living in groups. The encounter-dilution effect provides protection when the probability of detection of a group does not increase in proportion to group size (i.e. encounter effect), so that predators do not offset the encounter effect by attacking more members of the group (i.e. dilution effect). In this paper, we propose a novel mechanism by which prey insects could gain by producing decoys that act as multiple targets for predators or parasitoids if these decoys are recognised as preys or hosts and negatively affect the patch foraging strategy of these predators and parasitoids. Such a decoy mechanism could be present in aphid colonies in which aphid exuviae are recognised and attacked by Aphidiine wasps.


We conducted a behavioural study to evaluate the effect of exuviae on parasitoid patch residence time and egg allocation in experimental aphid patches with or without exuviae. We showed that exuviae are recognised and attacked at the same level as aphids when both are present in the patch. While parasitism rate was not significantly lower in patches with exuviae when the parasitoid left the patch, the time wasted by parasitoids to handle exuviae did influence the patch residence time. As a consequence, the attack rate on the live aphids was lower in patches that contain exuviae.


Aphids had more time available to flee and thus each individual might gain protection against parasitoids by leaving their exuviae near and within the colony. These results demonstrate that the encounter-dilution effect provided by living in a group can be enhanced by extra-materials that act as decoy for natural enemies.