Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 9, pp 1289-1295

First online:

Olfactory aposematism

Association of food toxicity with naturally occurring odor
  • Scott CamazineAffiliated withDivision of Biological Sciences, Cornell University

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Visual and acoustic cues may serve as aposematic signals that warn predators of poisonous foods. Olfactory aposematism, the use of innocuous odors as warning signals for toxic foods, is another possible means of alerting an animal that a potential food item is unpalatable. Although it has been suggested that olfactory aposematism might be the principle mode of warning utilized by plants in their defense against herbivores, experimental evidence is lacking. This study demonstrates that the opossum,Didelphis virginiana, can utilize an innocuous volatile compound found naturally in a mushroom as a warning signal for a delayed illness caused by mushroom toxin. This supports the contention that characteristic odors of toxic plants may serve a warning function, protecting herbivores from being poisoned and plants from being consumed.

Key words

Aposematism olfactory odor opossum Didelphis virginiana 1-octen-3-ol mushroom volatile toxicity bioassay