Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 521-532

First online:

Cardenolide sequestration by the dogbane tiger moth (Cycnia tenera; Arctiidae)

  • James A. CohenAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Florida
  • , Lincoln P. BrowerAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Florida

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Cycnia tenera adults, reared as larvae onAsclepias humistrata, had 10 times higher cardenolide concentrations, and contained 15 times more total cardenolide, than did moths reared onA. tuberosa. Thin-layer chromatography confirmed that each individual cardenolide visualized in the adult moths reared on the former host plant corresponds to one present in the plant, thus demonstrating that the insects' cardenolides are indeed derived from the larval food. Adult weights were significantly greater when the larvae had been fed upon the higher cardenolide plant species,A. humistrata. Similar results for other milkweed-feeding insects have been interpreted by some authors as evidence against a metabolic cost of handling cardenolides. However, such interpretations confound cardenolide differences among milkweed species with other differences in plant primary and secondary chemistry that affect insect growth and development. While the cooccurrence inC. tenera of other noxious chemicals (e.g., alkaloids) is not precluded, cardenolides sequestered from larval host plants have probably contributed to the evolution of visual and auditory aposematism in this species. As the eggs are laid in large clutches and larvae are gregarious, such aposematism may have evolved via kin selection.

Key words

Cycnia tenera Arctiidae Lepidoptera Asclepias milkweeds cardenolides cardiac glycosides allelochemics plant-insect interactions plant secondary chemistry chemical ecology chemical defense kin selection