When the larvae of beet armyworms (Spodoptera exigua) feed on corn, the plant releases volatile compounds that act as a magnet for parasitic wasps (Cotesia marginiventris), which deposit their eggs in the larvae. Production of volatile chemicals increases during the day (when wasps are active) and decreases at night, suggesting that variations in production might affect the daily activity patterns of foraging larvae, with low production sending the signal that the coast is clear. To test this hypothesis, Shiojiri et al. exposed larvae of a corn-munching nocturnal caterpillar, Mythimna separata, to volatile compounds from corn and varied the light and dark conditions for both corn and insect. Corn infested with M. separata releases volatiles that attract parasitic wasps (C. kariyai).
The researchers separated the effects of photoperiod from that of host plant volatiles to tease out their relative contributions to caterpillar behavior. First, they tested the effects of light. If larvae are diurnal, they should hide in "shelters" fashioned out of filter paper attached to the plastic cups they were kept in. When larvae were fed an artificial diet, however, different light conditions produced no changes in their hiding
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