Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 36, Issue 12, pp 1335-1345

First online:

Leaf and Floral Parts Feeding by Orange Tip Butterfly Larvae Depends on Larval Position but Not on Glucosinolate Profile or Nitrogen Level

  • Niels AgerbirkAffiliated withFaculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen Email author 
  • , Frances S. ChewAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Tufts University
  • , Carl Erik OlsenAffiliated withFaculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen
  • , Kirsten JørgensenAffiliated withFaculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen

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In an attempt to identify chemical signals governing the general flower and silique feeding behavior of larvae of the orange tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines (L.), we investigated feeding behavior and chemistry of two major host plants: Cardamine pratensis L. and Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande (garlic mustard). Larvae reportedly feed mainly on flowers and siliques rather than leaves in nature, and did so when observed on the original host plants. Behavioral experiments, using detached A. petiolata branches, however, showed that larvae readily accepted leaves and only the final instar showed a tendency for directed movement towards floral parts. To search for semiochemicals that control plant part preference and to assess possible nutritional consequences of floral parts feeding, we determined glucosinolate profiles and total nitrogen levels of floral parts and leaves. There was only moderate difference between glucosinolate profiles of leaves and floral parts within each of two host plant species. In contrast, the profiles of floral parts differed significantly between them. A. petiolata was dominated by 2-propenyl glucosinolate, while C. pratensis was dominated by aromatic glucosinolates and branched aliphatic glucosinolates, with considerable variation among populations. Nitrogen levels tended to be higher in floral parts than in leaves in A. petiolata, but not in C. pratensis, so floral feeding could not generally be attributed to higher N content. With the exception of a tendency of last instar larvae (L5) to move to the apex and ingest flowers and upper stem, we did not find either a plant chemistry basis or larval acceptance/rejection behavior that could explain the usual feeding of floral parts by orange tip larvae of all instars. However, by artificial manipulation of vertical larval position on host plants, we found that the frequency of leaf vs. flower feeding during 24 hr depended significantly on the initial larval position. Hence, we suggest that the placement of eggs on floral parts by ovipositing female butterflies is a major explanation of orange tip feeding habits previously known from field observations.

Key Words

Larval feeding behavior and preference Glucosinolate profile Total nitrogen Leaves Flowers Siliques