Female insects of diverse orders bore into substrates to deposit their eggs. Such insects must overcome several biomechanical challenges to successfully oviposit, which include the selection of suitable substrates through which the ovipositor can penetrate without itself fracturing. In many cases, the insect may also need to steer and manipulate the ovipositor within the substrate to deliver eggs at desired locations before rapidly retracting her ovipositor to avoid predation. In the case of female parasitoid ichneumonid wasps, this process is repeated multiple times during her lifetime, thus testing the ability of the ovipositioning apparatus to endure fracture and fatigue. What specific adaptations does the ovipositioning apparatus of a female ichneumonoid wasp possess to withstand these challenges? We addressed this question using a model system composed of parasitoid and pollinator fig wasps. First, we show that parasitoid ovipositor tips have teeth-like structures, preferentially enriched with zinc, unlike the smooth morphology of pollinator ovipositors. We describe sensillae present on the parasitoid ovipositor tip that are likely to aid in the detection of chemical species and mechanical deformations and sample microenvironments within the substrate. Second, using atomic force microscopy, we show that parasitoid tip regions have a higher modulus compared with regions proximal to the abdomen in parasitoid and pollinator ovipositors. Finally, we use videography to film wasps during substrate boring and analyse buckling of the ovipositor to estimate the forces required for substrate boring. Together, these results allow us to describe the biomechanical principles underlying substrate boring in parasitoid ichneumonid wasps. Such studies may be useful for the biomimetic design of surgical tools and in the use of novel mechanisms to bore through hard substrates.
N.G. conceived and designed the study, supervised experiments and data analysis, interpreted results and wrote the manuscript. L.K. carried out experiments and analysed the data. Contributions from other researchers for instrument use, technical discussions, and help with programming are individually acknowledged. Both authors agree and approve of the contents in this manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
N.G. acknowledges the Department of Science and Technology for the Ramanujan fellowship and research grant [RJN-42] that supported part of this work.
Supplementary material available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1242/jeb.098228/-/DC1
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