Onions Attract Helpful Wasps with Their Floral Scents

Jim Crocker
26th May, 2024

Onions Attract Helpful Wasps with Their Floral Scents

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study by ICAR found that onion flowers use specific floral scents to attract pollinators, particularly scoliid wasps
  • Key aromatic compounds in onion floral scents include o-cymene, cis-β-ocimene, benzaldehyde, and allo-ocimene, which elicit responses from scoliid wasps
  • Unlike other wasp-pollinated flowers, onion nectar is dominated by hexose sugars rather than sucrose, potentially attracting a wider range of pollinators
Onion flowers require pollinator-mediated cross-pollination to produce seeds effectively. However, the specific cues that pollinators use to locate these flowers have not been well understood. Recent research conducted by ICAR[1] sheds light on this issue by investigating the role of floral scents in attracting pollinators, specifically scoliid wasps. The study utilized electrophysiological methods and behavioral assays to determine which compounds in the floral scent of onions are biologically significant to scoliid wasps. The researchers found that the majority of the molecules identified as floral fragrances in onions are common compounds known from other angiosperms (flowering plants). The primary aromatic components of onion floral scents included o-cymene, cis-β-ocimene, benzaldehyde, and allo-ocimene. These compounds were found to be behaviorally active, meaning they elicited a response from the antennae of scoliid wasps. Interestingly, the study also found that the nectar of onion flowers is dominated by hexose sugars rather than sucrose, which contrasts with what has been observed in other wasp-pollinated flowers. This unique characteristic might play a role in attracting a broader range of pollinators. The findings from this study provide new insights into the floral volatile chemistry of onions, a key vegetable crop grown worldwide. By understanding that onions use generalist floral volatiles to attract pollinators, this knowledge could be utilized to make onion blooms more attractive to both minor and major pollinators, thereby maximizing seed set. These results align with earlier studies that have explored the importance of floral volatiles in attracting pollinators. For instance, a study on grape varieties found that the volatiles emitted by inflorescences and berries influenced the oviposition behavior of the grapevine moth, Lobesia botrana[2]. This study highlighted that olfactory cues play a significant role in insect behavior, which is consistent with the findings of the ICAR study on onion flowers. Moreover, the importance of pollinators in crop production has been well-documented. A global study found that wild insects are more effective pollinators than managed honey bees, significantly enhancing fruit set in various crop systems[3]. This underscores the necessity of understanding and optimizing pollinator attraction to improve crop yields. The ICAR study advances this understanding by identifying specific floral volatiles that attract scoliid wasps to onion flowers. By leveraging this knowledge, agricultural practices can be improved to enhance pollinator attraction, thereby increasing seed production and crop yields. This could involve developing synthetic lures that mimic the identified floral volatiles, similar to the approach used in the grapevine moth study[2]. In conclusion, the research conducted by ICAR provides valuable insights into the floral volatile chemistry of onions and its role in attracting pollinators. By identifying the specific compounds that attract scoliid wasps, this study opens up new possibilities for improving pollinator attraction and maximizing seed set in onion crops. This research not only contributes to our understanding of pollinator behavior but also offers practical applications for enhancing agricultural productivity.

AgricultureEcologyPlant Science


Main Study

1) Onion (Allium cepa L.) Attracts Scoliid Wasps by Means of Generalist Floral Volatiles.

Published 25th May, 2024


Related Studies

2) Synthetic grape volatiles attract mated Lobesia botrana females in laboratory and field bioassays.


3) Wild pollinators enhance fruit set of crops regardless of honey bee abundance.


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