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Symbiotic streptomycetes in antennal glands of the South American digger wasp genus Trachypus (Hymenoptera, Crabronidae)


Martin Kaltenpoth, Research Group Insect Symbiosis, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Beutenberg Campus, Hans-Knöll Strasse 8, 07745 Jena, Germany. Tel.: +49 3641 571800; e-mail:


Several insect taxa have evolved symbioses with actinobacteria that protect the host or its nutritional resources against pathogens. Digger wasps of the genus Philanthus (‘beewolves’; Hymenoptera, Crabronidae) cultivate ‘Candidatus Streptomyces philanthi’ (Ca. S. philanthi) in specialized antennal glands and transfer them to subterranean brood cells, where the symbionts provide protection for the beewolf larva against pathogens by producing a cocktail of antibiotic substances. The present study investigates the occurrence of antennal symbionts in two species of the genus Trachypus, which is the closest relative to Philanthus. Cross sections of the antennae from females of both Trachypus denticollis and Trachypus boharti reveal bacteria-containing gland reservoirs that are morphologically very similar to those found in Philanthus spp. Polymerase chain reaction-based screens with specific primers, sequencing of the partial 16S rRNA gene, and fluorescence in situ hybridization confirm the presence of close relatives of ‘Ca. S. philanthi’ in T. denticollis and T. boharti. However, 16S rRNA sequence divergence between Trachypus spp. and Philanthus spp. symbionts is much higher for T. boharti than for T. denticollis, suggesting that horizontal transmission and/or de novo uptake of symbionts from the environment occurs occasionally. The results obtained indicate that the protective symbiosis with antennal actinobacteria is older and more widespread than previously recognized and occurs in at least two genera of digger wasps that comprise approximately 170 species.