Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 547–563

Taste Sensitivity of Insect Herbivores to Deterrents is Greater in Specialists Than in Generalists: A Behavioral Test of the Hypothesis with Two Closely Related Caterpillars


  • E. A. Bernays
    • Entomology DepartmentUniversity of Arizona
  • S. Oppenheim
    • Entomology DepartmentNorth Carolina State University
  • R. F. Chapman
    • Division of NeurobiologyUniversity of Arizona
  • H. Kwon
    • Entomology DepartmentUniversity of Arizona
  • F. Gould
    • Entomology DepartmentNorth Carolina State University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005430010314

Cite this article as:
Bernays, E.A., Oppenheim, S., Chapman, R.F. et al. J Chem Ecol (2000) 26: 547. doi:10.1023/A:1005430010314


Sensitivity of caterpillars of Heliothis virescens, a generalist, and H. subflexa, a specialist, to eight different plant secondary compounds was examined behaviorally. The compounds were nicotine hydrogen tartrate, hordenine, caffeine, sinigrin, linamarin, arbutin, chlorogenic acid, and salicin. All compounds deterred feeding, at least at the higher concentrations, but the generalist was less affected than the specialist. Thus the hypothesis that specialists have greater sensitivity to deterrents than generalists was supported. In most cases deterrence occurred on first encounter, indicating that the response was sensory; in some cases short-term postingestive effects also appeared to play a role. The larger quantities of deterrent-containing food ingested by H. virescens sometimes resulted in measurable postingestive effects during the second control test. This did not occur in H. subflexa, which more commonly rejected the deterrent-containing food on first contact. The contrast between the species is discussed in relation to tradeoffs involved in different diet breadths.

Heliothis virescensHeliothis subflexacaterpillardiet breadthdeterrent compoundfeeding behaviorpostingestive toxicityplant secondary metabolite

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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000