Red-throated Caracaras Ibycter americanus (Falconidae) are specialist predators of social wasps in the Neotropics. It had been proposed that these caracaras possess chemical repellents that allow them to take the brood of wasp nests without being attacked by worker wasps. To determine how caracaras exploit nests of social wasps and whether chemical repellents facilitate predation, we: (1) video recorded the birds attacking wasp nests; (2) analyzed surface extracts of the birds' faces, feet, and feathers for potential chemical repellents; and (3) inflicted mechanical damage on wasp nests to determine the defensive behavior of wasps in response to varying levels of disturbance. During caracara predation events, two species of large-bodied wasps mounted stinging attacks on caracaras, whereas three smaller-bodied wasp species did not. The “hit-and-run” predation tactic of caracaras when they attacked nests of large and aggressive wasps reduced the risk of getting stung. Our data reveal that the predation strategy of caracaras is based on mechanical disturbance of, and damage to, target wasp nests. Caracara attacks and severe experimental disturbance of nests invariably caused wasps to abscond (abandon their nests). Two compounds in caracara foot extracts [sulcatone and iridodial] elicited electrophysiological responses from wasp antennae, and were also present in defensive secretions of sympatric arboreal-nesting Azteca ants. These compounds appear not to be wasp repellents but to be acquired coincidentally by caracaras when they perch on trees inhabited with Azteca ants. We conclude that caracara predation success does not depend on wasp repellents but relies on the absconding response that is typical of swarm-founding polistine wasps. Our study highlights the potential importance of vertebrate predators in the ecology and evolution of social wasps.
McCann S, Moeri O, Jones T, Scott C, Khaskin G, et al. (2013) Strike Fast, Strike Hard: The Red-Throated Caracara Exploits Absconding Behavior of Social Wasps during Nest Predation. PLoS ONE 8(12): e84114. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084114
Strike Fast, Strike Hard: The Red-Throated Caracara Exploits Absconding Behavior of Social Wasps during Nest Predation
Copyright is held by the author(s).
Member of collection