1. A variety of insects prey on honeydew-producing Homoptera and many do so even in the presence of ants that tend, and endeavour to protect, these trophobionts from natural enemies. Few studies have explored the semiochemical mechanisms by which these predators circumvent attack by otherwise aggressive ants.2. Ants use specific mixtures of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) as recognition labels, but this simple mechanism is frequently circumvented by nest parasites that engage in 'chemical mimicry' of their host ants by producing or acquiring a critical suite of these CHCs.3. Analysis of the CHCs from the North American woolly alder aphid, Prociphilus tessellatus (Homoptera: Aphididae), their tending ants, and aphid predators from three insect orders, Feniseca tarquinius (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae), Chrysopa slossonae (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae), and Syrphus ribesii (Diptera: Syrphidae), showed that while the CHC profile of each predatory species was distinct, each was chemically more similar to the aphids than to either tending ant species. Further, the CHCs of each predator species were a subset of the compounds found in the aphids' profile.4. These results implicate CHCs as a recognition cue used by ants to discriminate trophobionts from potential prey and a probable mechanism by which trophobiont predators circumvent detection by aphids and their tending ants.5. Although several features of the aphids' CHC profile are shared among the chemically mimetic taxa, variation in the precision of mimicry among the members of this predatory guild demonstrates that a chemical mimic need not replicate every feature of its model.
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