Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 227–235 | Cite as

Precopulatory sexual interaction in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix): Role of a pheromone derived from dietary alkaloids

  • William E. Conner
  • Thomas Eisner
  • Robert K. Vander Meer
  • Angel Guerrero
  • Jerrold Meinwald


Males of Utetheisa ornatrix have a pair of brushlike glandular structures, the coremata, which they evert from the abdomen during close-range precopulatory interaction with the female. Males experimentally deprived of coremata are less acceptable to females. The principal chemical associated with the coremata, identified as a pyrrolizine (hydroxydanaidal), has a proven pheromonal role: males raised under conditions where they fail to produce hydroxydanaidal are also less likely to succeed in courtship, and the compound itself, as its (-)-isomer, is capable of inducing the principal receptive response (wing raising) of the female. Evidence is presented indicating that Utetheisa derive hydroxydanidal from defensive pyrrolizidine alkaloids that they sequester from their larval foodplants (Crotalaria spp.). It is proposed that in addition to signalling male presence to the female, hydroxydanaidal may provide the means whereby the female assesses the alkaloid content of the male and therefore his degree of chemical protectedness. The argument is made that such pheromonal assessment of defensive capacity may occur also in other insects, including danaid butterflies, many of which share with Utetheisa a dependence on pyrrolizidine alkaloids for sex-pheromone production.


Alkaloid Sexual Interaction Alkaloid Content Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid Glandular Structure 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • William E. Conner
    • 1
  • Thomas Eisner
    • 1
  • Robert K. Vander Meer
    • 2
  • Angel Guerrero
    • 2
  • Jerrold Meinwald
    • 2
  1. 1.Section of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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