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Male Moth's Sperm Protects Females

oths start to mate, they remain coupled for eight or nine hours. That's not a Guinness record, however. Some insects mate for two days at a time. Mosquitoes, on the other hand -- or the other arm -- require only a few seconds.

  • Where's the froth? Immediately after mating with a male rattlebox moth, his gift of PAs chemical is on its way to every part of the female's body -- the thorax, the abdomen, even the wings. To be warned that this toxic temptation is not safe to eat, a spider must first taste the moth. Sniffing is not enough, because the moth's defensive chemical is not very volatile -- a useful quality in interests of chemical conservation. However the chemical does appear in another form, as a frothy blend of PAs and air bubbles created by special ducts in the moth's thorax and extruded to the outside when the insect is disturbed.

  • So little time, so many mates: Just one mating with a male bearing PAs will protect a female rattlebox moth for the rest of her adult life, about 30 days. Females are known to mate with upwards of 20 different males in one lifetime. That's about one every second night.

  • Lady of the rings: Biologists can tell how many times a female moth has mated by counting the tiny, hardened rings that are left behind when the male's spermatophores (or sperm packages) dissolve. After dissecting moths that have died naturally, the biologists say the doughnut-like rings accumulate in the sperm pouch and resemble a miniature coiled spring -- a kind of keepsake necklace from all the males she has known.


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  • Contact: Roger Segelken
    hrs2@cornell.edu
    607-255-9736
    Cornell University News Service
    10-May-1999


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