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Spite: Evolution Finally Gets Nasty Altruism's "neglected ugly sister " comes to the party | By

By Stuart Blackman, Courtesy Michael and R. Strand


The body of a caterpillar is the site of both a great feast and a gruesome familial struggle. But unlike even the most dys-functional holiday dinners, this fight for food erupts into bloodbath, with sisters killing sisters and brothers alike. The slaughter, as damaging to killer as to killed, exemplifies an ugly facet of evolution – the role of spite. Partaking in this grisly feast are the larvae of a parasitoid wasp, Copidosoma floridanum. Like other wasps, Copidosoma are haplodiploid: Fertilized eggs produce females; unfertilized eggs become males. These wasps are also polyembryonic: Eggs split to produce many clonal embryos. A single host may contain multiple eggs from multiple females, resulting in a hodgepodge of genetic relationships. The violence erupts when a proportion of the larvae (mostly females) develop into sterile soldiers armed with large mandibles, whose sole purpose is to seek out and kill less-related larvae. A LARVAL FEAST: Some have described spiteful behavior in Copidosoma floridanum. These wasps la

Year: 2011
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