The term parasitoid is used to describe parasitic insects that must kill their host to develop. This photograph shows a female wasp of the species Hypopteromalus tabacum (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae) on cocoons of the wasp Cotesia congregata (Hymenoptera: Braconidae). Although a parasitoid, H. tabacum can be called a hyperparasite because its hosts are themselves parasitoids.

Cotesia congregata is a parasitoid that attacks certain species of moths in the family Sphingidae. It is a host of numerous hyperparasites, including H. tabacum. The C. congregata cocoons shown in the photograph developed from a Ceratomae catalpae (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) larva that was feeding on a catalpa tree (Catalpa bignonioides, Bignonaceae) near Athens, Georgia.

Cotesia congregata is termed a gregarious parasitoid because generally more than one individual of it develop from a single host. In contrast, H. tabacum is a solitary parasitoid because only one individual develops from a host.

The interactions described above include four species at different trophic levels: a plant (C. bignonioides), an herbivore (C. catalpae), a parasitoid (C. congregata), and a hyperparasite (H. tabacum). These species each interact with many others to form a complex and rich ecological community. In addition to H. tabacum, for example, there are an estimated 20 species of hyperparasites that attack C. congregata in Georgia.

Hypopteromalus tabacum

Hypopteromalus tabacum
Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae

Photograph by John Pickering

Author: John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens Revised: 2 August, 1997