Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 8, pp 1895–1906

Chemical and Chromatic Bases for Preferential Visiting By the Cabbage Butterfly, Pieris rapae, to Rape Flowers


  • Hisashi Ômura
    • Division of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Integrated Arts and SciencesHiroshima University
  • Keiichi Honda
    • Division of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Integrated Arts and SciencesHiroshima University
  • Nanao Hayashi
    • Division of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Integrated Arts and SciencesHiroshima University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1020990018111

Cite this article as:
Ômura, H., Honda, K. & Hayashi, N. J Chem Ecol (1999) 25: 1895. doi:10.1023/A:1020990018111


Scent and coloration of corolla were examined as floral attributes responsible for preferential visiting by the cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, to rape flower, Brassica rapa. Floral volatile components that release the flower-visiting behavior of the butterfly were identified by chemical analyses, electroantennography (EAG), and two behavioral bioassays: proboscis extension reflex (PER) in response to odor and attraction to artificial flowers. GC and GC-MS analyses of the headspace volatiles from the flowers revealed the presence of six aromatic compounds, benzaldehyde, phenylacetaldehyde, benzyl alcohol, 2-phenylethanol, phenylacetonitrile, and indole in decreasing order of quantity. Of these, phenylacetaldehyde elicited the highest response in the PER assay. While benzyl alcohol, 2-phenylethanol, benzaldehyde, and phenylacetonitrile evoked moderate responses, the PER-eliciting activity of indole was very weak. In two-choice behavioral bioassays, artificial flowers scented with any one of these PER-active compounds attracted significantly more butterflies than control (unscented) flowers, whereas those treated with indole were almost inactive. The EAG activities of the six chemicals were not high and were about the same at a low dose (1 μg), but phenylacetaldehyde elicited a much stronger response from both sexes at higher doses (10 and 100 μg). An overall profile of EAG responses at a dose of 100 μg was analogous to that of PER performance, suggesting that floral volatiles may be involved in close-range location or recognition of flowers rather than long-range attraction. By spectroscopic and UV-photographic examinations of rape flower, the central part of the corolla was found to absorb UV rays in marked contrast to the other parts, which reflected near-UV rays (λmax = 350 nm). This indicates that the flower is endowed with a conspicuous nectar guide that is probably an important visual stimulus for attracting foraging adults of P. rapae. Consequently, the present findings strongly suggest that this elaborate pollination strategy of rape flower, characterized by its good combination of olfactory and visual attractiveness, accounts for preferential visiting by the cabbage butterfly to the flower.

Flower-volatilesfloral scentPieris rapaeBrassica rapaproboscis extension reflexEAGbenzaldehydephenylacetaldehyde2-phenylethanolphenylacetonitrileUV nectar guide
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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1999