Female sex odor makes cool male moths warm up faster and take flight sooner
Washington, June 8 (ANI): When male moth gets a whiff of female sex attractant, he's quicker to start shivering to warm up his flight muscles, and then takes off prematurely when he's still too cool for powerful flight, a University of Utah study has found.
Until the next study, it remains a mystery which moths actually reach the females: the too-cool, quick-takeoff males or the males who wait until they're hot enough to take a shot.
The latter may end up flying faster and more efficiently and win the race, despite a slow takeoff.oths forage for nectars using flower odors. Males follow female sex attractants or pheromones to find the females. Then they have what Vickers calls "an odor dialogue" and mate. The females use odor to lay their eggs on the right plants.
"Finding out how odors switch on behavior is critical to the whole picture. Furthermore, because insects have this amazing ability to fly, which not many animals have, finding out how flight is turned on by odor is an issue relevant to many insects. ... There is a whole constellation of behaviors driven by odor, and this is true of all manner of insects" and even other animals and people," said senior author of the study Neil Vickers, professor and chairman of biology at the University of Utah.
Vickers and Jose Crespo, a University of Utah doctoral student in biology and first author of the new study, conducted the study with University of Utah biology Professor Franz Goller.
The study involved a moth named Helicoverpa zea, commonly known as the corn ear worm. It belongs to the largest family of moths and butterflies - noctuids - which have more than 35,000 species worldwide, including the medium-sized moths many of us see in or near our homes.
Researchers use them because they are good models to show how odors are processed in the brain.
Virgin males were used in the study because it is standard protocol to use animals that haven't previously mated or been exposed to pheromones.
To start the experiments, all the moths were chilled down to 46 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, cool enough so they stay inactive, and so handling them before the experiments doesn't prompt them to start warming up immediately.
A fan blew a gentle, 1 mph breeze toward the moth, and one of six odors was released near the upwind end of the tube. One was the moth's normal pheromone blend, one was the blend's primary component, and the other four were odors (or in one case, no odor) that scientists believed wouldn't attract the moths (and didn't).
An infrared video camera - which measures temperatures - recorded the moths as they began their shivering warm-up and finally took off. The moths are seen in infrared turning from cooler purple-blue to warmer orange and even warmer red and yellow.
Moths that did not smell pheromone flew in random directions when they finally warmed up. Moths that smelled the pheromone blend (and often the primary component alone) started shivering faster, took off sooner (less time shivering), did so at a lower temperature than other moths, and flew toward the odor.
Crespo conducted a second set of experiments that showed cooler temperatures mean less vertical flight power or force.
The published online June 7 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. (ANI)
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