Adult parasitoids depend on sugar-rich foods such as nectar and honeydew to meet their energy requirements and control insect pests. However, it is poorly known whether parasitoids can detect and feed on honeydew in agroecosystems, where it is the primary carbohydrate source, because this sugar source is less apparent in comparison to nectar and sometimes contains repellent compounds for parasitoids.
High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analyses were carried out to test whether Aphytis melinus DeBach (Hymenoptera: Aphelinidae), a parasitoid whose host does not produce honeydew, feeds on honeydew from non-hosts. In addition, the correlation between the parasitoid's sugar reserves and honeydew abundance was determined. To do this, both the levels of honeydew producers and the sugar levels of individual collected parasitoids were assessed during different seasons. The overall sugar content was treated as an indicator of energy reserves and the erlose–melezitose ratio as an indicator of honeydew feeding.
The data show that A. melinus fed commonly on honeydew from non-host hemipterans. More than 50% of the female parasitoids collected in spring and summer had recently fed on honeydew and most of them showed a high sugar content.
However, in autumn, when the number of honeydew producers was three times lower than in spring and summer, less than 20% of A. melinus were found to have fed on honeydew, with the average total sugar content being reduced by a factor of three.
This study demonstrates that A. melinus commonly feeds on honeydew in the field, even though its host does not produce honeydew. The results also suggest that the exploitation of honeydew by A. melinus is a function of the density and species of honeydew producers.